Chicken Soup with a Goal

"I believed in Enron." -- Cathy Peterson, Flashlight Walking

The end of the year has traditionally been a time for reflection. Veterans Day. Thanksgiving. The December holidays. Recently, two new dates have been added to the list: September 11 and December 3. We all know what happened on September 11, but after two years December 3 is already becoming a historical footnote.

December 3 marks the second anniversary of the collapse of Enron, a day when corporate greed and deceit kicked many Houstonians in the stomach and left them without much hope for recovery, much less retirement. Since that day of infamy, at least 95 eager authors have churned out books demonstrating how the bubble burst at the corporate level. Now there's a book that describes -- in heartfelt detail -- how the collapse affected an average citizen, a hardworking employee, a Houstonian.

Cathy Peterson's Flashlight Walking is the inspiring story of one family's struggle through cancer and the Enron nightmare. Peterson narrates how her husband, a loyal employee of Enron for many years, was diagnosed with cancer a few months before the corporate fallout. Once the debacle occurred, Bill Peterson found himself among the thousands who lost their jobs, not to mention their insurance. "The financial loss for so many was overwhelming," she writes. "For Bill, the loss could easily be life or death."

Cathy Peterson lost everything -- her savings, her car, her family home, her loving husband -- everything, that is, except for hope. "There's always something good to be found," the author says over the phone. She hopes the tale of her loss will serve as the impetus for a new federal law, the Peterson Law, a piece of legislation that will protect any employee with a life-threatening illness from layoff or bankruptcy. It would apply to all employees who have worked for at least a year at a company with more than 5,000 employees. In the event of short-term disability, these workers would be guaranteed at least 70 percent of their salaries, as well as their insurance, for 18 months. "We've got to have some moral character to our companies," she says. "Protecting our employees, our fellow human beings, has got to be a priority.

"When Enron's fall first happened, I had several political aides call me, but almost immediately there were rumors of the war in Iraq, so all the focus, rightly so, turned off Enron and any rectification," she says. The current administration has done virtually nothing to prevent corporate corruption. "I think that at the time something had to be done with the terrorists. It was kind of like having two pots on the stove with one boiling over. I think it had to be addressed. But I think there are enough legislators to take care of some things at home as well.

"I have to make a difference for the next generation," she says. "I can't lay down and die quietly. I have to stand up. With the Enron anniversary coming up, this is my time to try to get the iron hot." Her story might not be enough to set the iron ablaze, but hopefully it will inspire those who read it to light a fire under the asses of their elected representatives.

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Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek