By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Local man's grief fuels statewide cause

That’s because passage of the bill, which adds mourning the death of a family member to Oregon’s family leave law, was a personal crusade of his. He launched it four years ago, after his wife, Bonnie, died of malignant melanoma.

Zimmerman described Bonnie as a homemaker who took loving care of her kids and home.

In September 2004, they noticed a small misshapen spot just below her waist. They thought it was probably nothing special, but should be checked out with a dermatologist.

The doctor took one look and knew it was melanoma. That was confirmed by a subsequent lab test. But the melanoma had already metastasized, making it incurable.

For the first year, she was treated at the Willamette Valley Medical Center. After a lump developed in her lymph nodes, evidence the cancer was spreading, she was transferred to the Providence Portland Medical Center for the first of half a dozen surgeries.

Zimmerman spent all of his vacation time to help care for his wife. He wasn’t able to use any of his sick time until January 2008, when an earlier family leave act amendment provided the authorization.

By then, Bonnie had little time left. She died on May 3, 2008, leaving behind a 12-year-old daughter, Hanna, in addition to her husband and an adult son.

Zimmerman then realized he faced another issue. He had services to arrange and a grieving sixth-grader to console, but there was no grief provision in the act.

A baker with Oroweat in Beaverton, he found his employer was supportive. But Zimmerman was drained of both leave time and financial resources.

At Bonnie’s funeral service, co-workers handed him an envelope containing $1,000. He said that was a godsend.

Zimmerman then set about trying to get a grief provision added to Oregon’s family leave law. Sen. Brian Boquist introduced it for him in the 2011 session, but it failed. This session, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer took the lead.

“It was really educational,” Zimmerman said. “You really learn how the process works.”

He enjoyed the people he met and came away with a new appreciation for the work conducted by the Legislature. He testified twice, and was joined by other advocates.

He was able to listen to the testimony of other supporters on the Legislature’s website. “You can hear the passion in people as they speak,” he said.

Zimmerman was relieved when the legislation finally cleared its last hurdle.

“It was such a long process,” he said. “You never think it’s going to get done, after so many false starts. It feels good to leave a mark and make a change.”

Since Bonnie’s death, Zimmerman also has become passionate about the danger posed by melanoma.

He distributes fliers at work and around town the first Monday of May, which he has dubbed Melanoma Monday. It marks the anniversay of Bonnie’s death.

“I’ve actually heard from people who have found melanoma because of that,” he said.

Zimmerman is looking forward to the day when his company posts new laws from the 2013 session on its bulletin board. He’ll be able to point to the one he helped make happen.

For anyone facing a similar challenge, he offers this advice: Adhere to the three P’s — persistence, patience and politeness.

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