Inspired by her mother, Goshen woman lobbies for national COVID-19 memorial day

  • Jennifer Ritz Sullivan holds a photograph of her and her mother, Earla Dawn Dimitriadis, who died of COVID in December. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jennifer Ritz Sullivan holds a photograph of her and her mother, Earla Dawn Dimitriadis, who died of COVID in December. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jennifer Ritz Sullivan holds a photograph of her and her mother, Earla Dawn Dimitriadis, who died of COVID in December. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2021 4:12:16 PM

GOSHEN – Jennifer Ritz Sullivan’s mother, Earla Dawn Dimitriadis, is one of the more than 600,000 people who have died as a result of COVID-19 in the United States, and Ritz Sullivan is working hard as part of a national movement to make sure that the impact of the deadly pandemic is not forgotten.

“In order to heal collectively we need acknowledgment,” Ritz Sullivan said.

Ritz Sullivan is the COVID Justice Leader for Marked By COVID in Massachusetts. Marked by COVID is a national group founded during the pandemic by those affected by the disease to make sure that the needs of those harmed are listened to and met. All of its members, including Ritz Sullivan, are volunteers.

“We’re essential workers, we’re folks who have had long COVID, we’re folks who have lost loved ones,” Ritz Sullivan said. “We know what went wrong, so bring us in.”

A key piece of the national legislation that Marked By COVID is pushing is H.Res.174, a resolution that expresses support for the creation of a national COVID–19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day on the first Monday of every March. COVID-19 restrictions were widely adopted in March 2020.

“If we can’t face it, we can’t stop it from happening again,” Ritz Sullivan said.

The resolution has been co-sponsored by seven of Massachusetts’ nine congressional representatives, including U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and Richard Neal, D-Springfield. Sullivan has met with McGovern and Neal as part of lobbying efforts for the bill.

“He validated us on so many issues,” Ritz Sullivan said, of McGovern. “He acknowledged the criminal handling of the pandemic.”

She also expressed appreciation for Neal’s support of the bill.

“Her sincerity certainly rung through,” said Neal, of his meeting with Ritz Sullivan. “I think that there’s great merit to the proposal that she really has been one of the driving forces behind.”

Ritz Sullivan and the group also have been in contact with the offices of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA. She said that it has gotten a good reception from both offices and that Warren’s office has indicated that she’ll introduce a resolution into the Senate once the House resolution passes. However, Sullivan also said that they’re looking to have meetings with the senators themselves as well.

Both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also have expressed support for the effort.

Ritz Sullivan will be joining other Marked By COVID activists in July in Washington, D.C. as they lobby for the resolution’s passage as well as the needs of those affected by COVID-19. Ritz Sullivan and her husband will be the lobbyists for Massachusetts.

Ritz Sullivan said that while the legislation will not bring any loved ones back, “It makes it so that history can’t just be shoved under a rug.”

Currently, 49 members of the U.S. House have sponsored H.Res.174. And although all of them are Democrats, Ritz Sullivan said that the COVID-19 issue is not a partisan one.

“This is a bipartisan issue, whether or not folks choose to believe it,” she said. “This should have never been politicized.”

She also noted that she’s known of extremely liberal and extremely conservative people who got COVID and died, as well as those in between.

Another priority that Marked By COVID is pushing for is the establishment of a COVID-19 commission to examine what went wrong with the response to the pandemic and document what happened for the sake of history.

Activism isn’t new to Sullivan, and she grew up seeing her father Robert Ritz, a Vietnam Veteran, lobby on behalf of veterans’ rights.

“Hearing my dad say he’s proud of me is great,” Ritz Sullivan said. “Hearing my sister tell me that my mom would be proud of me is great.”

Ritz Sullivan’s father also got COVID-19 during the pandemic, although he managed to survive his encounter with the disease.

Memorial event

Ritz Sullivan is also helping to organize a COVID-19 memorial event at Three Sisters Sanctuary, which will take place on Sept. 12. Richard Richardson, who founded the sanctuary, is donating the space for the event.

“I built the sanctuary centered around grief,” Richardson said. “It was a good fit for the sanctuary.”

He also said that he thinks the event will be good for the community.

Richardson started the sanctuary in response to his brother’s death from cancer and named it after one of his daughters died of an aneurysm.

At the event, the names of those in Massachusetts who have died of COVID-19, as well as the loved ones of Massachusetts residents who have died of COVID-19, that have been submitted will be read aloud.

Monte Belmonte has agreed to MC the event, and lawmakers, including McGovern, Neal, Warren, Markey and state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, have been invited to speak. There will be music provided by musicians.

Attendees will be encouraged to leave items that remind them of loved ones they’ve lost to COVID-19 on the grounds, and to share their stories.

Those who want to attend the memorial or submit names and information about loved ones lost can email Ritz Sullivan at MarkedByCovidMA@gmail.com.

Ritz Sullivan’s mother died of COVID-19 in December 2020.

“It’s the only way that I can think to manage the amount of anger I have,” Ritz Sullivan said, of her activism work.

Ritz Sullivan also said that she feels her mom’s presence when she does her COVID-19 work.

“I carry her into every meeting,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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