Larry Dubey had every right to give up.
The active and outdoorsy Mar Vista resident suffered a catastrophic snowboarding accident at Mammoth Mountain four years ago. In an instant, he broke his neck and crushed his spinal cord, becoming paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Since becoming a quadriplegic and requiring constant care, he lost his family’s savings to medical expenses and his job as a project manager/superintendent at a construction company.
Then, roughly two years after Dubey’s accident, his 23-year-old son, Mitchell, was murdered during a home-invasion robbery in Connecticut.
Despite enduring these hardships, Dubey, 61, is pursuing plans to become a consultant and mentor in the construction field — and inspiring others along the way.
He was one of three Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) clients honored with the agency’s Inspiration Award during a May 8 luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. The other award winners at the 16th annual “Strictly Business L.A.” event were Laurence Trebaol, a U.S. Navy veteran, and Danielle Vaughn, who left the entertainment industry to provide hospice care for her uncle.
Donors Roz and Jack Zukerman received the Champion Award, and the Boeing Co. was given the Corporate Leadership Award.
Katherine Moore, JVS vice president of communications, said Dubey showed “unimaginable courage in facing obstacles that would crush most people. His strength of character, his wry sense of humor, and his genuine warmth and charisma inspire everyone who comes to know him.”
She said that his story personifies the organization’s mission: “To empower people with the resources and support they need so they can overcome adversity, lift themselves up, get back to work and move forward in achieving their goals.”
Dubey said he craves to get back to work, despite his condition.
“A big part of it is wanting to feel like I’m providing for my family in some way,” he said. “Fundamentally, it’s the most important thing any of us do.”
So Dubey sought JVS services through the California Department of Rehabilitation. He teamed with Jose DeLaCruz, a JVS vocational evaluator/counselor.
DeLaCruz says Dubey was initially “confused”: How can a quadriplegic who requires continuous care be employed? In search of a solution, DeLaCruz taught Dubey how to use his nursing aids and an iPad to his benefit, and the two worked together on a plan for Dubey to become a consultant on Americans With Disabilities Act issues in the construction industry.
Dubey considers construction a service industry that enables him to help and mentor others, something that resonated with him.
“I’d like to help people, whether they’re people in wheelchairs, or just young people getting started in construction,” he said. “The big key is to find something to do that helps service.”
Dubey currently is training for his consulting business and is enrolled in UCLA Extension’s program for construction management.
His family and friends, including his daughter Lauren Dubey, said the way he has persevered has affected them powerfully.
“If your old man with no functional use of arms or legs can get up and live each day, so should I,” she said.
She said that he has a witty humor about him, too. She recalled, in particular, his response when she wanted to help him settle back home months after his accident when he “graduated” from Craig Hospital in Denver, where he rehabilitated. It would have required that she pass up leading a group of high school students through Thailand.
“He insisted he would break his neck again if I didn’t go,” Lauren Dubey said.
Larry Dubey’s wife, Randi, said that he’s inherently “perseverant” and not a spectator by nature, but that his mettle was tested immediately following the accident.
“[For him] to stay in that frame of mind, it’s been a struggle,” she said. “He didn’t begin, ‘OK, I’m going to wake up and [fight to recover].’ ”
She credited family, friends, the Jewish community and JVS with helping her husband remain strong.
Rabbi Steven Reuben Carr of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades said Larry Dubey’s positivity and charm has uplifted everyone who has supported him.
“When this accident happened, it was a privilege for the congregation to rally behind him and show what being a part of a community is about,” Carr said. “Larry has been a guiding light for everyone. His strength gives them strength. His courage gives them courage.”
Still, much more remains to be done. Larry Dubey isn’t yet earning an income, and his caregivers, out-of-pocket prescriptions and physical therapy are monstrous expenses that have wiped out his life savings and retirement account.
He carries on, though, always happy to cite a favorite credo. One he repeated throughout the JVS luncheon was, “It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you handle what happens to you.”
The other, popular with his late son, is simple: “Be positive.”