Back in the Day: MADD founder went to school in Fairfield

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By Tony Wade
Originally published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on August 29, 2014

Candace Doddridge Lightner is the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and is an activist, author and worldwide inspiration. She is also a 1964 graduate of Armijo High School.

When Lightner’s father was stationed at Travis Air Force Base, she spent her junior and senior years at Armijo and was the yearbook editor her senior year.

“We called the cheerleaders ‘The Golden Girls.’ They were the rah-rah popular girls, but my friends and I hung out at Flakey Cream Do-nuts and smoked,” Lightner said. “We were known as the ‘The Cigarette Girls.’ Our big thing that we did was read Ayn Rand.”

Lightner married, had three children and after a divorce, was living in Fair Oaks. She lived every parent’s nightmare when her 13-year-old daughter Cari, an identical twin, was killed by a chronic drunken driver on May 3, 1980.

“Cari was walking to a Catholic school carnival and was hit from behind,” Lightner said. “She was thrown 125 feet. The man who killed her, Clarence Williams Busch, was out on bail from another hit-and-run. The police didn’t catch him for several days, so I didn’t know the particulars.”

When Lightner was later filled in on the extensive drunken driving history of the suspect, she asked a police officer how much prison time Busch would do.

The police officer said, “Prison? You’ll be lucky if he does any jail time.” Lightner was horrified.

“I don’t think you could possibly understand the anger and the rage I experienced when I found out that Cari had been killed in the manner which she had and that he was out on bail for another hit-and-run drunk driving crash,” Lightner said. “He had been repeatedly arrested for drunk driving with minimal sanctions.”

Lightner launched MADD from her home in 1980. The original acronym stood for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, but was changed to reflect the organization’s focus on the act and not the individual in 1984.

On March 14, 1983, a TV movie titled “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers – The Candy Lightner Story” aired, starring Mariette Hartley. In addition to earning two Emmy nominations, it also gave the organization exponentially more coverage.

Through dogged determination, Lighter and MADD were able to effect significant change in how drunken driving is both perceived and dealt with by the criminal justice system.

“During the time I was with MADD, we changed over 2,000 laws at the state and federal level and I was personally involved in changing 500 of them,” Lightner said.

A major triumph was the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Lightner witnessed it being signed into law in the Rose Garden at the White House by President Ronald Reagan. It punished every state that allowed people under 21 to purchase and publicly possess alcoholic beverages by reducing their annual federal highway apportionment by 10 percent.

After 5½ years, Lightner left the organization she started because, while they did save lives, she needed to live her own.

“MADD did not help my grieving, it helped my anger. I was able to channel my anger into saving the lives of others. I realized I needed to move on and focus on my life and family,” Lightner said. “Sometimes what happens when people join or start movements, the focus becomes the death of the loved one. I didn’t want Clarence William Busch to make me a perpetual victim. It was my choice to get on with my life in a way that was positive and productive. It led me to co-write the book, ‘Giving Sorrow Words: How to Cope With Grief and Get On With Your Life’ that was published in 1991.”

Lightner founded We Save Lives (www.wesavelives.org) in 2013 and its mission statement is to prevent the three D’s: Drunken, drugged and distracted driving.

She is proud to be the inspiration for people to get involved and make a difference.

“So many people have started movements as a result of what I accomplished,” Lightner said. “I am most proud that other people saw in my work a reason to do something similar that changes a culture, changes laws and saves lives.”

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com.