NAUGATUCK — Decades ago, while running near his Millville Avenue home, firefighter Tim Andrew would often spot another runner, an unknown neighbor.
“I always wondered who he was,” Andrew said. “You’d see this guy all over town, all the time.”
Now the two are intimately connected. After the neighbor, well-known Republican-American Managing Editor Bob Veillette, suffered a stroke in 2006 that left him almost completely paralyzed, Andrew decided to run for both of them.
Andrew, 57, will run up all 1,576 steps in the Empire State Building on Feb. 1, Veillette’s 66th birthday. He’s taking donations to raise money for Veillette’s home care.
Veillette’s stroke left him with locked-in syndrome. Veillette cannot speak, and can only breathe and eat through tubes. He can move both of his eyes, which he uses to spell out words, and has regained some control of head movements through physical therapy. Veillette, an accomplished musician and Shakespeare scholar, can still see, hear, feel and think as clearly as ever.
This will be Andrew’s 15th year participating with hundreds of other runners in the Empire State Building Run-Up. He used to collect donations for causes, including the nationwide Easter Seals disability services organization. This will be his second year running the stairs for Veillette.
“When I found out about his incident, I said I’d rather keep it local,” Andrew said.
Andrew leaves canisters in area restaurants to collect donations, and this year is looking for a business to sponsor him. For a substantial donation, he will wear the business’s logo on a T-shirt or hat, and give the company a plaque, he said.
The money Andrew collects will help pay for four home aides who help Veillette’s wife, Bonnie, provide her husband with round-the-clock home care.
“I just couldn’t put him into a home,” Bonnie Veillette said. “He never would’ve gotten the care he’s getting here.”
In order for her husband to communicate, Bonnie Veillette, 62, reads him the alphabet in a special order, with the most commonly used letters first. He moves his eyes upward when she hits on the right letter.
“Bonnie is the real story,” Bob Veillette spelled out. “I just sit here and think great thoughts.”
Andrew didn’t run the race last year, but in 2008 he collected $600 at most for the Veillettes, he said. Unlike some runners, Andrew does not ask for donors to sponsor him per stair. He just asks for a flat donation, because he always makes it to the top, most recently in 20 minutes.
“Tim is always stepping up to help someone,” Bob Veillette said.
Donations can be sent to the Robert D. Veillette Special Needs Trust, in care of Brian DiVito, at Naugatuck Savings Bank. Donors can write “race” on the check’s memo line to help the bank track Andrew’s fundraising.