Weekly Column

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I first met Andy Hoffman at a chili cook off in Butte, Nebraska, in October of 2004. I was running for my first term in the Nebraska Legislature. I was walking from group to group, talking with the cooks and tasting their chili, when I came upon a young man in jean overalls. I introduced myself, and we ended up talking for over 30 minutes.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say he “grilled” me for over 30 minutes with a smile on his face. He was kind, and he later became a supporter and a dear friend.

We stayed in touch during my eight years in the Unicameral. Never one to keep strongly held opinions to himself, Andy would call me every now and then to tell me how he felt about bills in the Legislature. When I decided to run for U.S. Senate, I asked him to serve as one of my county chairs.

Andy agreed. But a few weeks later, his son Jack was diagnosed with brain cancer. Jack was just five years old at the time.

Andy and his wife, Bri, had their lives turned upside down. But instead of giving up, they supported Jack every step of the way as he fought cancer. And they started the Team Jack Foundation in his honor, which helps fund pediatric brain cancer research and raise awareness about this terrible disease. Andy spent the years since Jack’s diagnosis traveling the country and appearing on national television, where he spoke about how important this funding is for children like Jack.

Like most Nebraskans, Jack loves Husker football. In 2013, his favorite player, Rex Burkhead, invited him to join the team for their annual spring game. Jack won Best Moment at the ESPY Awards that year when he ran 69 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown and into the hearts of millions of people around the world. Sports Illustrated even made him one of their five nominees for Sportsman of the Year. Jack and Rex were kind enough to sign their jerseys for me, and I still have them hanging in my office today.

To recognize the Hoffman family’s heroic efforts, I was pleased to work with the White House to arrange an Oval Office visit with President Obama for Jack and the Hoffmans. And at that same time, I led a U.S. Senate resolution making Jack’s birthday, September 26, National Pediatric Brain Cancer Awareness Day.

Andy was relentless in bringing attention to this disease. Under Andy’s leadership, Team Jack has raised over $8.4 million to help make sure no child has to go through what Jack has. He even published a book last year, Yards After Contact, about Jack’s fight. 

Andy led a successful law practice with offices in Atkinson, O’Neill, and Central City. He was also a passionate runner, even qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2014. And he was especially fond of hunting, fishing, and spending all the time he could outdoors.

Andy passed away on March 1, at age 42, after his own hard-fought battle with glioblastoma, an extremely aggressive type of brain cancer. Our state lost a remarkable Nebraskan. His wife, Bri, and three children, Jack, Ava, and Reese, lost a loving husband and father, and Bruce and I lost a wonderful friend.

We’re heartbroken that Andy is gone, but we take comfort in the fact that his legacy will live on through the incredible work of the Team Jack Foundation.

The world is a better place today because of Andy’s life. At the end of the day, I think that’s all that any of us can ask for.

I ask that you join me in honoring Andy’s life. Please keep the Hoffman family in your prayers.