At Large With Tom Williams: Bill Elliott Turned Tragedy Into Triumph

Bill Elliott has a booming bass voice. When he was news director at WMID Radio early in his career, his voice would vibrate the speakers. That continued during his years in public relations with Shore Medical Center, Atlantic Electric and Richard Stockton College, including a weekly television show on TV-40.

You always think of that voice when Elliott’s name comes up. You can hear it in your mind. But, over the last 16 years, his voice has become louder.

In July of 2000, Ensign John Elliott, a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, was killed by a drunk driver while Elliott was on his way to his mother’s birthday party. It is the type of tragedy no parent should have to face. But Bill, and his wife, Muriel, have turned that incredible grief into something positive.

They created the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers.

Surely you have seen the signs, the decals or the bumper stickers. It has grown into an enterprise that has saved thousands of lives and prevented serious injury for thousands more.

The main thrust of the HERO Campaign is to emphasize designated drivers. Bars, restaurants and taverns sign up and agree to provide free soft drinks to designated drivers. There is an impressive list of businesses from Atlantic and Cape May counties who have agreed to participate. You can check out the list, with direct links to each establishment’s website, by visiting

By the way, most people probably believe that the name of the organization was created to recognize designated drivers as heroes. They are, in many cases, but the acronym stands for Human Education Resource Officer. They are elected by their peers at the Naval Academy to counsel and mentor other members of their company. Ensign Elliott was selected the outstanding HERO in his graduating class.

The designated driver program is a big success and is the centerpiece of the 16-year campaign. But John’s Law, signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2001, is another big part of the effort. It allows police to maintain custody of a vehicle driven by a driver arrested for being under the influence for up to 12 hours after the arrest.

The driver who killed Ensign Elliott had actually been arrested earlier that night for driving drunk. But he was released by State Police when a friend came to pick him up. He got behind the wheel again and crossed the center line on Route 40 in Pittsgrove Township, striking Ensign Elliott’s vehicle.

The HERO Campaign has attracted sponsors from all directions. Wawa, Sam’s Club, ShopRite, Kramer Beverage, Corona Extra, the Phillies and the New England Patriots are all supporters. The Patriots have signed up thousands and thousands of fans at Gillette Stadium to take the pledge, by far the most of any NFL team.

The campaign also benefits from a concert by Atlantic Pops, a May golf tournament at Sand Barrens, the Stockton Hero Games and the Hero Walk, coming up on Oct. 2 on the Ocean City Boardwalk. They recently got together with Uber to expand the impact of the campaign.

In addition to Stockton, there are HERO Campaign chapters at Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, NJIT, Rider, Rowan, Rutgers, TCNJ, Delaware and William Paterson.

There are also high school chapters at Ocean City, Egg Harbor Township, Absegami, Pleasantville, Allentown, Cranford, North Hunterdon and Franklin high schools.

If your school is not listed, find out next month how a chapter can be started there.

Three establishments in Atlantic City have created a different version of the program. Wonder Bar, Ducktown Tavern and the Vagabond Tap House have partnered with Sea Isle City Jitney to transport customers between the three establishments.

The John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers was born out of tragedy. Thousands of designated drivers and thousands of businesses have come together to save lives and reduce serious injuries over the past 16 years.

And it all happened because Bill Elliott, the guy with the voice that rattles headsets, wanted to do something to honor his son and make changes in the culture of alcohol.

He has succeeded beyond his greatest expectations.


Words of wisdom: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” (Late actor Christopher Reeve)

August 9, 2016 | Source

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