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Relay leadership to change hands

Earlier this year, Suffolk Relay for Life Chairman Ray was talking about the changes he wanted to make in the 2011 Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life.

His reign as chairman, however, has come to a sudden and unexpected end.

According to American Cancer Society administrators, the chairman handbook states a chairman is limited to a two-year term. Bennett has, therefore, reached his limit.

“The ACS requests chairs serve a two-year term limit, which we let them know from the very beginning,” said Elisa Wills, ACS market development director. “I don’t understand why it would be a surprise.”

Wills emphasized that the two-year term limit is a national standard for all Relays, and that Bennett knew of the limits.

Present and past Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life leadership, however, were unanimous in their surprise.

“I was never aware of the rule, and I myself served more than two years as chairman,” said Jeanne Banks, who has more than five years of leadership experience as chairman and co-chairman of the Suffolk event. “I know times and people change, I understand that, but I’d never heard it before, and it’s never been enforced before.”

After the end of Bennett’s term was announced earlier this week, several Relay volunteers sent emails and letters to ACS, which detailed their disappointment and disapproval.

“I’ve seen nothing but positive outcomes from both Ray and Robin,” Banks said, also referring to co-chair Robin Blanchard. “They compliment and work together so well. They spared nothing in making the Relay a success. No one I know of wants to see them go.”

The reason for the rule is to “let everyone in the community serve as a chair if they wish and lets different groups, corporations, friends and family serve to make it a community event,” Wills said. “It keeps things fresh and different.”

Banks said that while she understands rules are in place for a reason, she would encourage the ACS to look at changing the rule and that “I was impressed with all [of Ray’s and Robin’s] creativity,” Banks said. “Ray walked from the Hilton to the site this year and last year — after losing his mother-in-law to cancer the day before — he was there at the Relay. He sets a high standard.”

When asked if changing the regulation would be considered, Wills re-emphasized that it is a nationally held regulation and that there is a regional board for past chairmen to sit on, where they can offer their input.

She also said one application for the chairman position in Suffolk has already been submitted.

“The committee is happy with Ray and want him to stay on in our committee capacity,” Wills said. “They serve as mentors to the upcoming chairs and our committee has been very successful.”

In a letter to friends, family and volunteers, Bennett thanked them for their support, but did not mention the extent of his intended involvement with the Relay next year.

“We are very honored to know we have had the support of you guys in us and the walk,” Bennett wrote. “Our main concern here is to do nothing to harm the walk or to cause any problems within our community, but most of all not to stop fighting for the cause of a cure for cancer. Please, do not give up on this fight.”

The same term limit applies to a co-chairman, who can assume the chairman position. Blanchard, however, has said she had no intention of assuming the position.