RAYMOND — He lay in his bed Tuesday morning, his paralyzed legs propped up on two pillows.

No, Anthony Napoleone said in a barely audible voice, he’s never met the man who provided a private jet to bring him home to Maine so he could spend his final days near his two young sons.

But Napoleone, 28, who’s dying from an incurable staph infection in his lower back, nevertheless had a message for his wealthy benefactor.

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” Napoleone said, blinking back tears. “I never figured I’d come back here. I figured I’d be stuck in Kansas. He’s a great guy as far as I’m concerned.”

Maybe you’ve heard of the guy.

His name is S. Donald Sussman.

That’s right. The same S. Donald Sussman who founded the multibillion-dollar Paloma Partners hedge fund and recently got engaged to Maine’s U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.

The same S. Donald Sussman who only a few short weeks ago was being pilloried by anonymous posters to this newspaper’s website as a “corrupt midget,” a “limousine liberal” and a “liberal elitist squirming his way into political power” by (gasp!) giving his fiancee an occasional ride on his jet.

The same S. Donald Sussman who, when asked in a telephone interview last week why he’d give the time of day (let alone a 1,500-mile ride aboard that jet, complete with a licensed nurse) to a guy like Napoleone, broke down in tears for several long moments before he could muster an answer.

“Just to be able to help,” Sussman said, struggling to compose himself. “I hate to see people hurting.”

It all started back in early October. Sussman and Pingree were driving up Route 1 to Rockland when they heard a story on Maine Public Radio about Napoleone’s plight.

Napoleone traveled from Maine to Kansas two years ago to visit relatives and hit the reset button after going through a divorce. At a party one night in July 2008, he saw his sister getting beaten up by her boyfriend and intervened.

The boyfriend, it turned out, had a knife. He stabbed Napoleone once in the back, breaking off the tip of the knife in Napoleone’s spine and paralyzing him from the rib cage down.

First came the bed ulcers. Then came the staph infection, which has progressed to the point where there’s no longer any tissue covering the bones in Napoleone’s lower back.

Then came the grim prognosis: Napoleone had weeks, at best maybe a few months, to live.

Last month, a newspaper in Salina, Kan., reported that Napoleone’s mother, Rayleen Wright, and other family and friends were trying to raise money to bring him home to Maine so he could be near his boys – Parish, 10, and Gage, 4. Doctors and hospice workers in Kansas had told them to hurry.

The story took off. When he heard it on the radio that day, Sussman turned to Willy Ritch, Pingree’s communications director, and asked, “Can you figure out where this guy is?”

Two days later, Sussman’s jet landed in Salina with his pilot, co-pilot and a volunteer nurse aboard. A few uneventful hours later, a drowsy Napoleone opened his eyes and asked Wright, “Mom, are we leaving yet?”

“Anthony,” she replied with a laugh, “we’re already here.”

Which brings us back to those online posters.

Around the same time Sussman was being labeled Public Enemy Number One by some armchair commentators, this newspaper reported that an anonymous do-gooder had flown Napoleone and his mother back to Maine, where they’re now living with a relative in a cramped home on Raymond Hill Road.

“I’m sure this donor will go to heaven,” opined one poster.

“A generous and human gesture. Many blessings to this person,” said another.

“God bless this most wonderful person,” said yet another. “This proves there are angels here on earth.”

In the Press Herald newsroom, some saw a private jet in one story and a private jet in the other and wondered if maybe, just maybe, they had a common denominator.

But it wasn’t until last week that Ritch, over a cup of coffee, acknowledged to me that, yes, it was Sussman after all.

So what do we make of this multimillionaire who, in that interview last week, said this is by no means the first time his jet has been put to humanitarian use?

(A case in point: In January, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Sussman dispatched his aircraft and crew to fly several loads of desperately needed medical supplies from St. Thomas to Port-au-Prince.)

“People can hate me for my success. That goes with the territory,” Sussman said. “But no one ever helped me do anything. I did this from scratch and I’m very fortunate. I have a lucky instinct about investing money.”

For Wright, Napoleone’s mother, the lesson here is simple.

“People shouldn’t judge other people. Only God judges people,” she said. “People need to open up their hearts and sit down and think about what they’re saying – before they open their mouths.”

Before she learned last week who was behind her son’s mission of mercy, Wright knew Sussman only as the guy who was getting kicked all over the news because he had the audacity not only to amass a personal fortune, but also to fall in love with a congresswoman.

Now she knows better.

“Thank God for Donald Sussman, you know?” she said. “I mean people need to look at their own closets instead of always trying to open up everyone else’s.”

Monday morning, Wright gingerly loaded Napoleone into her rental car (paid for by Ritch and Pingree) and drove him to Skowhegan to spend the day with his boys. Seeing them all together broke her heart.

At the same time, it bolstered her belief that in the end, the true measure of a person is not how much (or little) each of us accrues over a lifetime. Rather, it’s what we choose to do with it.

“You know, there are a lot of miracles out there,” Wright said. “And for my son, Donald Sussman was one of those miracles.”

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]