“As a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, I have always admired the important work that the Cardinal Cushing Centers do to provide educational and employment opportunities to people with disabilities,” Brett said. “We are incredibly fortunate to have the Centers as a resource in our region and I am truly humbled to be honored with this award.”
According to Brett, he has known Cushing Center’s Jo Ann Simons for 30 years and was glad to be able to accept an award at the Cushing Center.
“It’s about the mission,” he said. “Honors involving disabilities are very meaningful to me.”
Brett and Simons met when he worked as a legislator. He said that they worked closely together on the same advocacy ideas and made sure to stay active on the intellectual disabilities front.
“It is our honor to recognize Jim for his tireless efforts on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities,” said Simons, president and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers. “Few people take the lessons learned at home, and in Jim’s case it was the gifts of his beloved brother Jack and his mother’s steadfast belief that Jack was going to be included in family, church and community life, and teach the rest of us those lessons.”
Brett, a Dorchester resident, has served as the president and CEO of the New England Council, a non-partisan business organization representing businesses throughout the six New England states, since 1996. Prior to joining the Council, he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for over 15 years.
“Jim has led the Commonwealth and the United States throughout his career as a legislator, Chair of the Governor’s and President’s Committee on Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in all matters that are important to the Cardinal Cushing Centers,” Simons said. “He has fought for us, cried with us and demanded the best for people with disabilities. We are blessed to have him on our side.”
President Barack Obama appointed Brett the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in May of last year. Brett said that then President George W. Bush appointed him to the same position in the previous administration.
“It was a special night,” Brett said about the award ceremony. He described how he appreciates disability organizations of all sizes and values the different perspective each one offers. “Each one is unique; each one gives me more energy to keep on advocating; each one is very personal to me.”
This isn’t the first time Brett’s humanitarian work has been recognized. Hospice of Boston has named him Humanitarian of the Year. In 1996, Bay Cove Human Services of Boston named a new community home for disabled adults “Brett House” in his honor. Brett also received the Distinguished Leadership Award from Massachusetts Special Olympics in 2008. In 2009 and 2011, the Boston Red Sox invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park in recognition of his national contributions in support of people with intellectual disabilities.