In March 2019, Jay Barrett died of cystic fibrosis in West Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 44.
His death came roughly a week after Barrett became widely known due to a phone call from the president of the United States. It was arranged by a “staunch Democrat” — his sister, Bridgette Hoskie, a member of the city council in West Haven, according to The Washington Post.
She knew he was dying, since he’d been moved into palliative care in her home, and at issue was a bucket list he’d written in the hospital.
“Among his top requests: He wanted to go to Washington to see the nation’s capital for the first time,” The Post reported.
“In an ideal world, Barrett mused, they would visit the White House and President Trump would emerge from a partition to surprise them — just like he had with a group of tourists in 2017 — and maybe even acknowledge him with a wave.”
That wasn’t going to happen, which left Hoskie in a bit of a jam.
“I said, ‘How am I going to make these things happen?’” she told the paper after the story went viral. “’How am I going to get the president to wave at him?’”
Barrett was an independent, a man who said he went “back and forth” casting his vote. He supported Barack Obama in 2008 but didn’t vote for him in 2012. He said that in 2016, however, Donald Trump “was my choice from the moment he rode down the escalator.”
While his family and friends knew he was the rare Trump supporter in that part of the world — Hillary Clinton won the state by 13 points and Connecticut hasn’t had a Republican senator since Lowell Weicker lost to Joseph Lieberman in 1988 — they didn’t talk about the political affiliation that dare not speak its name.
“We didn’t talk about it,” he said. “But they knew where I stood. I don’t care what somebody’s opinion about me is.”
His sister noted that he’d “always been a fighter” but that the cystic fibrosis — a rare genetic disorder which attacks the lungs — had taken its toll on him.
“We don’t know if it’s six months [left],” Hoskie said at the time. “We just know that it’s not about the quantity of time, it’s about the quality, so right now we’re just trying to live our best life.”
As for how to make contact with President Trump, however, that was a problem. A friend had told her one way to do it was by emailing the White House at their public address. This probably wasn’t going to get much attention, though.
What she needed was critical mass.
“And I was like, well, that’s ridiculous,” Hoskie said. “Then I realized, if I can email the White House, what if they got 10 or 20 or 30 other emails?”
She got a lot of responses from across the political spectrum: “Everyone honestly has been amazing. Democrat, Republicans, you know, they have all reached out and were just, like, ‘What can we do?’” Hoskie said.
“People who know that I’m Democrat said, ‘Oh, you know, we’re not a [Trump] supporter, but we’re going to support you and your brother.’ It’s just really humbling to think that complete strangers would do that.”
After the New Haven Register ran a story on the campaign, the White House got in touch with Hoskie — and she filmed what happened next.
The video’s going viral again more than one year later:
This mans dying wish was to speak to Donald Trump on the phone… and President Trump honored that wish.
— 🇺🇸™️ (@X2_T17) September 25, 2020
“Holy Christ,” a disbelieving Barrett said at the beginning of the call.
“Hi, Jay, you look handsome to me. I just saw a picture of you,” Trump responded.
“Aw, you’re giving me kind honors,” Barrett replied. “I look like s—.”
The president laughed and asked how it was going. “It’s going, you know what I mean?” Barrett responded.
“You’re a champ,” Trump said. “You’re fighting it, right?”
“That’s what the Irish do, right?” Barrett answered.
“Yeah, that’s what the Irish do,” Trump said. “You better believe it. You look good. I wish you could come to a rally.”
In the midst of the conversation, Barrett told the president that “I plan on coming down to D.C. between now and my expiration date.”
“Don’t even talk about expiration dates,” Trump said. “You’ll be surprised, you know? I know my people.”
The president also said that he was inspired to call because “I read a beautiful story about you and I just said, I want to call that man. That’s my kind of guy.”
It was a viral moment, one that quickly got forgotten.
It meant the world to Barrett, though.
“It was just, like, holy Christ, you know? I’m getting a call from this guy. Like he’s taking time out of his busy, busy schedule,” Barrett told The Post. “He could be doing a million other things. He could have taken an extra five-minute nap. We know he doesn’t sleep much. … Instead, he chose to call me.”
Trump called on March 5, 2019. Just eight days later on March 13, according to The Associated Press, Barrett passed away at his sister’s home.
The expiration date came sooner than expected. Still, the impact it had on the short amount of time Jay Barrett had left on Earth was immeasurable.
“He really did live one of the best weeks of his life last week,” Hoskie told the AP. “That phone call meant everything to him.”
This is the Donald Trump no one is particularly eager for you to see. There’s a love and generosity here most politicians can’t bring to bear.
This is empathy, warmth and an investment of time from the most powerful man in the world, a man who’s usually seen by the establishment media as a dismissive, distant figure who eats McDonald’s while watching Fox News all day.
In fact, you halfway wonder whether The Post would have run this if there weren’t a Democrat behind it. Give that Democrat credit, though: She couldn’t have cared less about politics here. She made the last week of her brother’s life one of its most special.
“Mr. President, through thick and thin, you know there’s been a lot of thicks, and there’s been a lot of thins, I support you,” Barrett told the president.
We only wish Barrett were still around to support him.
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