With her unwavering dedication to prevent drunken driving, Pat Bluth is making a difference.
Bluth, on Saturday, will be recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving's 20th anniversary campaign honoring volunteer Difference Makers. She will be featured as a MADD Difference Maker on MADD's national Web site found at www.madd.org.
"I believe in MADD and I believe I have worked hard in the organization to make a difference," Bluth said. Although proud of the national recognition from MADD, Bluth said she believed any number of Crow Wing County MADD volunteers deserve the honor as well.
The 55-year-old Nisswa woman did not become active in MADD by chance. Her daughter, Tammy Bluth, a 17-year-old Brainerd High School senior, died in a traffic collision Sept. 13, 1985, east of Brainerd that was caused by a drunk driver.
Based on what Bluth termed her nightmare experience with the criminal justice system after her daughter's death, she and Bonnie Alexander chartered the Crow Wing County MADD chapter in August 1986.
"What energized me was being ignored in the courtroom," Bluth said. "My impetus for starting MADD was to help other victims."
She has served several terms as the Crow Wing County MADD president and currently serves on the state MADD board.
She often works for victims as an advocate to help them navigate the criminal justice system. She explains the court process and has helped families prepare impact statements. Sometimes she reads the statements when the families are unable to do so. Bluth, who is trained in grief therapy, helps families cope with their pain. "That's another addition that I can bring," she said.
In the past 15 years, Bluth said she has seen vast improvements in the criminal justice system -- more recognition and rights for victims as well as stiffer penalties for DUI offenders.
"I think the courts take drunk driving more seriously," she said. "I see a lot of positive changes."
Bluth said she also has seen increased community acceptance of MADD. "It feels good to have that support," she said. "It wasn't there when we started MADD. It was a tough, tough haul when we first started. I just see a high percentage of acceptance now everywhere we go."
Through MADD, Bluth has shared the story of her daughter's death with hundreds of people, including offenders sentenced to attend a MADD Victim Impact Panel.
After one session, a man told Bluth he was going to put Tammy's name on his dashboard as a reminder not to drink and drive.
"I felt like her death maybe made a difference," Bluth said.
Bluth said it's difficult to talk about her daughter's death and how it affected her family. For instance, she explains how her daughter was remembered through flowers on the altar at her son's wedding when she should have been a bridesmaid.
"It's hard to talk about that," Bluth said. "It's always painful."
Bluth said her pain is a small price for her to pay in order for her daughter's death to make a difference in the fight against drunken driving.
At first, Bluth said MADD served as an outlet for her anger -- a constructive means to do something positive.
Although her anger has dissipated, Bluth does not plan to quit MADD anytime soon.
"As long as there are victims, I'll be working for MADD," she said. "I'd love to be worked out of a job."
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