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June 22, 2006

Local's public service lauded

From: San Angelo Standard-Times - San Angelo,TX,USA - Jun 22, 2006

By KIM LAST, Scripps Howard News Service
June 22, 2006

WASHINGTON - A day in June 1990 started out like any other until Aulby ''Larry'' Gillett took a drive and saved somebody's life.

That day also changed the perspective of a man who already was a committed volunteer.

''It gave me the idea to want to help deaf people in the community improve their access to the 9-1-1 system,'' said Gillett, speaking in sign language through an interpreter after arriving in Washington on Monday.

The 50-year-old San Angelo resident came to the nation's capitol on an expenses-paid trip to represent his hometown and the Standard-Times as a local winner of a Jefferson Award. The American Institute for Public Service confers the awards to recognize outstanding community and public service work.

On that hot June day 16 years ago, Gillett drove past a car fire and noticed something that onlookers didn't catch: A person was caught inside the vehicle. He didn't hesitate for a moment to risk his own life by jumping into the fire and pulling the man out. Gillett instantly became a local hero.

Those around him, including the man whose life he saved, didn't realize this local hero happened to be deaf.

With his changed perspective, the U.S. postal employee helped Texas develop a 9-1-1 system for the deaf and hearing impaired, working with state representatives to draft and pass legislation.

Gillett's boss at the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster Ernie Jones, nominated him for the Jefferson Award. ''He does excellent work with the community, not only with people who have hearing disabilities,'' Jones said.

Gillett plans to take his experience in Washington and turn it into an educational tool for those - with and without disabilities - back at home.

''I know that I've had a positive influence on others,'' Gillett said. ''People can realize they can do things without limitation because I show them that it can be done.''

''I am so proud of him,'' said Paula Ross Lewis, Gillett's fiancee. ''He just helps so many people in need, and I think that's an inspiration.''

Gillett and others were honored at a dinner on Tuesday night at which the five Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service winners were announced.

Hosted by actress Ellen Burstyn, the dinner also recognized Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for creating the PeyBack foundation, which donates money to help children through educational and athletic programs. Other national award winners were Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., for public service by an elected or appointed official; I. King Jordan, president of Gallaudet University, for his public service benefiting the disadvantaged; and Michael Feinberg and David Levin for service by private citizens.

©2006 - The San Angelo Standard-Times, an E.W. Scripps newspaper