Lt. Gov. Brian Calley visits Richard Elementary for annual luncheon

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 7, 2017

 Lt. Gov. Brian Calley talks about special education and his daughter’s autism during the Grosse Pointe Community Luncheon held Nov. 6 at Richard Elementary School in Grosse Pointe City.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley talks about special education and his daughter’s autism during the Grosse Pointe Community Luncheon held Nov. 6 at Richard Elementary School in Grosse Pointe City.

Photo by Sean Work

GROSSE POINTE CITY — When Lt. Gov. Brian Calley addressed the attendees at this year’s annual Community Luncheon Nov. 6 at Richard Elementary School, he didn’t hold back when sharing his story regarding his daughter, who he said has autism.

He remembered when she turned 2 and how difficult everything seemed to be for the family, which includes wife Julie and two other children.

“It was getting harder,” said Calley, adding that the family barely went out anymore or socialized. “Even simple things were just so hard to do. We stopped going out places. It was too disruptive for other people. … We didn’t have friends over … We didn’t know what was happening.”

Someone at church who had a background in special education suggested that his daughter might be autistic, he said.

“It felt like an insult. ... That’s where I first started to learn of the stigma of any kind of neurological difference. Whether it might be mental illness or it might be developmental disability, there’s this heavy stigma. It makes you want to kind of hide away from it,” he said. “That’s the wrong thing to do.”

Calley’s daughter eventually was diagnosed with autism, and the politician said that’s why he advocates for special education students in his role as lieutenant governor.

He said he has been working to promote an inclusive philosophy in schools, churches and communities to include people with disabilities. He’d also like to see more positive behavior intervention programs in schools, something that some educators are promoting.  

As a state lawmaker, Calley has visited companies across the state to encourage business owners to hire people with disabilities. Calley said people generally see disabled people and look at the things they can’t do rather than what they can do.

“We have things we’re good at and things we’re bad at,” he said. “That’s what a person with a disability faces every day. I’ve got 100 stories about people with disabilities that did amazing things, that totally shattered expectations.”

Calley also said, “There’s probably a thousand stories of people that never had a chance.”

Grosse Pointe Public School System officials held the district’s seventh annual luncheon this month. Every year, the event is held at a different school in the district to bring together educators, local dignitaries, church leaders and others from the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods. GPPSS Superintendent Gary Niehaus and Richard Principal Mary MacDonald-Barrett also addressed the crowd.

“My heart is very happy to host this year,” MacDonald-Barrett said, adding that the attendees represented a diverse group of educators, government officials and people affiliated with local churches. “It’s just a supportive group.”

According to the luncheon leaflet, Richard was named after Pére Gabriel Richard, who was considered a pioneer of the West, a pastor of old St. Anne Church in Detroit and a founder of the University of Michigan.

“We probably have fourth-generation students attending here,” MacDonald-Barrett said. “This is just one school of many great schools in Grosse Pointe.”

During the event, the guests enjoyed a complimentary lunch and a vocal performance from the fourth-grade students led by music teacher Kemmer Weinhaus. The students sang “Candle on the Water,” “Lean On Me,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Afterward, tours of the school were available from the Richard students.