Washington — Family and friends of Bill Carteaux gathered at a Jan. 13 memorial remembrance in Washington to pay tribute, trade stories and hear how he raised millions of dollars for research against the disease that ultimately took his life.
Carteaux, the longtime head of the Plastics Industry Association, died Dec. 10 after a three-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia, a fight that he and his family chronicled widely on social media, including his InvinciBill Facebook page and a YouTube video.
Wylie Royce, chairman of the association, estimated that 400 people attended the event, held in the middle of a snowstorm that canceled flights in and out of the nation's capital and kept down the crowd size.
The head of the National Capital Area chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society told the gathering that since Carteaux was diagnosed with AML in 2016, he had dived into LLS volunteer work, becoming the largest individual fundraiser for the local chapter and possibly the largest nationally in the past year.
Beth Gorman, chapter executive director, said that since his diagnosis, Carteaux personally raised almost $700,000 and served as corporate chair of two annual Light the Night charity walks that raised more than $6 million, helping the chapter have the top Light the Night campaign in the United States, she said.
“That's amazing,” Gorman said. “This past year he raised more than any individual in our chapter, ever, and he is poised to the be top individual fundraiser in the entire country. That's going to be named in just the next few days.”
She said that in the last 18 months, six AML treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the first such new treatments in 40 years.
“AML is the toughest of blood cancers to treat,” Gorman said. “And Bill managed it with such positivity, grace and sheer determination.”
Family and friends recounted Carteaux's sense of humor and constant practical joking, and how that helped him and those around him cope as he battled AML, a disease the family said also took the life of one of Carteaux's young nephews.
“Over the last several years we made jokes about his recurring cancer,” said Daniele Fresca-Carteaux, his wife and also a former industry executive. “We never once thought cancer was funny. But he knew that if he didn't joke about it or hold on to some of the lightness in such a distressing situation, he would fall into despair.”
Professionally speaking, Royce talked about how Carteaux helped to “right the ship” of the association when he took over as CEO in 2005. He built stronger relationships with other trade groups, including Canadian and Mexican plastics groups, and guided the association through the 2008 economic crisis, when it had to lay off a lot of staff.
“Through all of this, Bill really became the face of the industry,” Royce said.
Another friend, Cody Keenan, led off the public comments at the event, which was labeled a “Celebration of Life.” Keenan talked about how being neighbors in Washington led he and his wife to develop a strong friendship with Bill and Daniele.
Keenan, the former director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama, noted that people from five countries came to the event, from as far away as Japan.
One of them, Hozumi Yoda, head of Japanese injection press maker Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd., said he traveled to the U.S. just to attend the service and pay respects, because Carteaux had nominated his grandfather to the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Royce noted that Carteaux, who was 59 years old, had a long career in the plastics machinery sector before transitioning to the Washington-based association. Carteaux himself was the youngest person inducted into the industry's Hall of Fame.
A running theme from speeches by family and friends was how everyone had expected Carteaux to keep prevailing. He had fought through two previous remissions, and family and friends constantly commented on his attitude and his involvement with others up until the end.
Carteaux announced on Nov. 2 that the AML had returned, and he died less than six weeks later.
“Right now, to me, nothing makes sense,” Whitney Taveras, one of Carteaux's daughters, told the gathering. “This was not how it was supposed to end. He was supposed to beat this. He was supposed to come out on top and be triumphant once again.”
Not giving up was part of Carteaux's makeup, said Jay Gardiner, president of Gardiner Plastics Inc. in Port Jefferson, N.Y., and president of the Plastics Academy. The two competed to become CEO of the plastics association back in 2005, and since then had worked closely and built a friendship.
Gardiner shared with the memorial celebration crowd a list of four keys for management that Carteaux once shared. One was “never, ever, ever give up.”
“That was the essence of Bill,” Gardiner said. “This one stayed with me not just in the challenges I saw Bill face in the business world, but all the way up to the last day in his relentless fight against AML. I'm going to miss him dearly.”