Florida Times Union: Fighting cancer, Clinton staffer from Jacksonville makes weighty recommendation
By Sebastian Kitchen firstname.lastname@example.org
Hillary Clinton campaign worker Tyrone Gayle was at war with colon cancer, in his sixth week of chemo, when he sent her an email she said influenced one of her most important decisions.
Gayle, whose parents still live in the Jacksonville home they moved to in 1992, wrote Clinton an email to update her on his health, but also urge her to select his former boss, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, as her running mate
“During the 2012 campaign cycle, I traveled all across Virginia with him spending upwards of 15 hours each day for 15 months on the road as his special assistant,” Gayle wrote to Clinton. “I can personally attest to his incredible character, integrity, competency and ability to get things done. I believe he would be a great choice, and be an effective governing partner.”
A few days after Gayle’s email and just before the Democratic National Convention, Clinton chose Kaine.
“It meant so much to me, because that’s a bird’s eye view,” Clinton later told People magazine. “That’s somebody sitting in a car with you, hour after hour, and I’m very grateful that the people who worked with me and for me over the years have been so positive and supportive of me and then to hear from one of them, ‘Hey, this is the guy you should pick,’ I found that very much positive information that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”
Kaine, in the joint interview, told Clinton “some of my staffers who work for you have been through some challenging times and you have taken good care of them and that matters a lot to me.”
Gayle, an All First Coast track and cross country athlete at Episcopal High School of Jackonville, said he was halfway through 12 planned chemotherapy treatments when he emailed Clinton.
“She asked me to continue to send her updates as much as I could, any progress or turning points and to share my thoughts,” he said.
Gayle, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in late March at age 28, said he is “somebody who has always lived in the moment,” and even though he may have been overstepping his bounds while Clinton was in the final steps of a crucial decision, he wanted to put in a word for someone he thinks highly of and do what he could to get Kaine on the ticket.
Gayle, one of the Clinton campaign’s national spokespeople who has worked in the press operation since the beginning of the campaign, moved to New York from Washington, D.C., in March 2015.
He said, “I haven’t looked back.”
After work on the high school newspaper and internships at WJXT and The Florida Times-Union, Gayle planned to pursue a journalism career. However, going into his junior year at Clemson University, he reached a “tipping point” and “had an itch to pursue politics.” So he began moving that direction, interning in Washington, D.C., and moving there after he graduated.
Gayle, born in Canada to Jamaican parents who moved to Jacksonville in 1992, worked for Media Matters, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Following what he said is the “predetermined menu of things you have to do” in Washington, he was told he needed to work on a campaign. He connected with the U.S. Senate campaign of Kaine, then the governor of Virginia, with the intention of working in the press operation. Instead, he was offered an opportunity to travel with the candidate as an assistant.
This was a top-tier Senate race, and more than a year later he was backstage with Kaine before he went out to give his victory speech.
Gayle said he learned a lot about Kaine. He watched him behind the scenes, learned what makes him tick, and during those hours of travel talked about everything — politics, religion, sports, memories, family, favorite movies and music, and “digesting the day’s events.” Kaine talked to him about decisions he made as governor and as head of the Democratic National Committee.
“The things I learned about him — seeing him in situations when the lights were on and the lights were off — he is the same person,” Gayle recently told the Times-Union from Clinton campaign headquarters in downtown Brooklyn.
He considers Kaine a friend, and said the senator checked in on him and visited him when he was in New York following his surgery.
Gayle said he heard from Clinton several times with her checking in on him to see “if I needed anything, making sure I was staying strong.” He said people know about the candidate when you sign up to work for her, “but when you see that kind of outreach, you learn about that kind of person,” particularly someone of her stature who could be president of the United States.
‘Heart and soul’
When he received his diagnosis — Gayle said he had “a whole gambit of emotions” that “overcame me and continued to overcome me for the days and weeks.” Fear. Anxiety. Frustration. Anger.
“It is hard to understand why something happens when it does for no apparent reason,” he said.
He had surgery on his colon and liver, and was scheduled for 12 chemo treatments, but had seven with testing showing the progress and no evidence of disease. They will continue to monitor and have scans every few months.
He was anxious to return. Early on, he adjusted his routine as he healed.
“The stress is high. The stakes are high, but I’m working at a computer, working with reporters and a cellphone,” Gayle said.
Gayle was not out long, missing about a month. After a year of work on the campaign, he did not want to “let the campaign pass me by.” He understands people taking a hiatus from work during treatment, but “I knew I wanted to see this thing through.”
Lily Adams, senior states communications advisor and senior spokeswoman at Clinton campaign headquarters, said campaigns are tough enough under normal circumstances, but Gayle coming back to work to the campaign soon after his surgery is an “inspiration to all of us.”
“I think that if you talk to anybody here in Brooklyn, and in particular, in the press shop, that Tyrone is really the heart and soul of this department,” Adams said. “He is a magnet. His energy and optimism are infectious. It was true the first time (they worked together on Kaine’s 2012 campaign) and it is true now.”
“He’s handled this with an amazing amount of grace. This is a job with a lot of long days. He is certainly a reminder to folks don’t complain.”
Lifelong friend Darron Blanchard, who still lives in Jacksonville and teaches at Jacksonville Country Day School where they attended, said Gayle has handled the cancer diagnosis well, but said he was scared and very confused, especially for someone with a healthy lifestyle who runs and trains.
“Getting diagnosed with this was a tough time, but there was never a moment where I thought he wasn’t going to fight with everything he’s got,” said Blanchard.
With his work ethic, positive attitude and outlook, and infectious smile, Blanchard is not surprised by his friend’s success. He said he is proud to see people at the level of Clinton and Kaine talk about his friend.
“He is never one to give up and shy away from a challenge,” Blanchard said. “He will fight 100 percent.”
Sebastian Kitchen: (904) 359–4161
Originally published at jacksonville.com on October 22, 2016.