Award reinforces legacy of child advocacy

When the prosecutor tried to speak to the young child about the abuse she had suffered, the girl quickly crawled under a table. Undaunted, the assistant district attorney followed suit, ultimately gaining her trust.

Peggy Gusz, executive director of the Crime Victims' Center, reads a proclamation from the Chester County commissioners as Chester County Court Judge Patrick C. Carmody looks on.

Peggy Gusz, executive director of the Crime Victims' Center, reads a proclamation from the Chester County commissioners as Chester County Court Judge Patrick C. Carmody looks on.

Peggy Gusz, executive director of the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc., (CVC) said that image represented one of her earliest memories of interacting with David Pless, who worked in the District Attorney’s Office from 1988 to 1997 and was instrumental in setting up its Child Abuse Unit. On Thursday, Dec. 1, Pless, who died of cancer in 2015, was honored for his impact.

Pless became the first posthumous recipient of the John J. Crane Allied Professional Award, recognition that began in 1998 in tribute to Crane, who garnered widespread acclaim for his deft handling of child-abuse cases. The award annually honors individuals or groups who are not directly involved in victim services but still exemplify the extraordinary commitment to victims that Crane exhibited for nearly 30 years.

David Pless is shown demonstrating his enthusiasm for the Philadelphia Phillies.

David Pless is shown demonstrating his enthusiasm for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Chester County Court Judge Patrick C. Carmody, a former recipient for his contributions as a prosecutor, made the presentation to Pless’s wife, Karyn, and their two children, Allie, 22, and Will, 16, in front of an audience that included CVC staff and dozens of members of law-enforcement. “I can’t imagine a person who deserves it more,” Carmody said.

Carmody said Pless inspired him and many others through his work with young victims, who typically felt alienated, despondent, frightened and unloved. “He would take his passion and give it to the children,” Carmody said. “He would build up their self-esteem and restore their confidence.”

Addressing Gusz, Carmody said Pless greatly valued CVC and Gusz’s role in co-founding and running it. “You’re a treasure, and I think everyone should appreciate that,” Carmody said. Later, Karyn Pless said that her husband felt at home at CVC. “This is where he was happiest,” she said. “It meant the world to him.”

In addition to treasuring his time with his family and child victims, Carmody said Pless enjoyed spreading his infectious sense of humor and rooting for Philadelphia sports teams. “I don’t know another person who’s more fun to be around,” Carmody said.

Karyn Pless (right) embraces Peggy Gusz. Behind them are Will Pless (left) and her mother-in-law, Jeanne Pless,

Karyn Pless (right) embraces Peggy Gusz. Behind them are Will Pless (left) and her mother-in-law, Jeanne Pless,

Former Deputy District Attorney Stephen J. Kelly recalled that Crane didn’t immediately warm up to Pless when he joined the staff. “Dave’s office was across the hall from John’s, and Dave always had his headphones on while he was working,” Kelly said. Crane initially regarded that habit with some suspicion – until he saw Pless in action.

Gusz read a proclamation from the Chester County Board of Commissioners, citing Pless for his dedication to seek justice for young crime victims.

“His legal knowledge and quick wit in court made him a natural trial attorney, his insight and professionalism helped to define how Chester County would handle child abuse cases, and his compassion and empathy for young victims and witnesses brought a level of trust that resulted in successful convictions of child predators and that restored confidence to the victims,” the proclamation said.

Summing up Pless’s legacy, Carmody said, “What he did was channel his passion,” a gift that not only saved lives but also embodied Crane’s spirit.

Crane joined the CVC’s board of directors when he retired after nearly three decades of work as a chief deputy district attorney. In 1996, two years before Crane’s death, the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) chose him for its Allied Professional Award, adding national recognition to his local accolades.

The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County, Inc. is a private, community-based, nonprofit agency that provides a broad range of supportive services, including hotline response; counseling and advocacy; and accompaniment to medical, police, and legal procedures to victims of crime and their families in Chester County. The agency also provides educational programs to schools, churches, businesses and community organizations.

Operating since 1973, CVC has been recognized both nationally and internationally for its victim advocacy work. For more information about CVC, call 610-692-1926 during regular business hours, or visit www.cvcofcc.org. CVC’s two 24-hour crisis hotlines are available to victims of all types of crime: 610-692-7273 (sexual assault) and 610-692-7420 (other crimes).

 

 

 

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