Obit Garvey

In this 1998 photo Ed Garvey, center, Democratic nominee for governor, receives congratulations from school board president Leon Todd, left, Pamela Malone, a campaign volunteer, and Garvey's wife, Betty, after addressing his supporters and the media in Milwaukee. Garvey, who was an activist for disability rights as well as the lawyer who led the National Football League Players Association through strikes in 1974 and 1982, died in February at age 76. Madison lost numerous champions for disability rights in 2017.

Before the curtain falls on 2017, we would like to salute some local heroes we lost this year who made firm the ground we walk on.

They include some well-known public figures and some ordinary folks, but they all opened the door for people marginalized by disability, race and poverty, and enabled them to experience our democracy as participating citizens.

Ed Garvey (Feb. 22, 2017): Famous for his leadership on behalf of professional football players, Ed made his most significant impact on Madison and Wisconsin through his efforts to promote democracy so all of us could participate as equal citizens. He called on us to remember the spirit of Fighting Bob La Follette. And he was a fierce advocate for his daughter Lizzie, giving her and others with disabilities a voice so that we could better recognize their individual capacities.

Fran Bicknell (April 24, 2017): Fran had high expectations of our social institutions and astonishing success in transforming them to be more equitable and inclusive. She championed fair housing, voting rights and inclusive education, achieving local and state legislative reforms. Inspired by her vision for a good life for her son Brad, she created opportunities for people with disabilities to secure safe housing and engage in meaningful work.

Steve Verriden (Feb. 14, 2017): Empowerment was Steve’s North Star, and choreographing the power of people with disabilities was his means. As the leader of the Wisconsin chapter of ADAPT, Steve mobilized a movement to emphatically speak truth to power. He led marches, demonstrations and sit-ins, which were a combination of theater and witness. He padlocked himself to the doors of Congress. He didn’t back away when the powerful pushed back. After one confrontation in the rain in Washington, D.C., Steve said, “I think the police really began to realize how important our freedom is to us.”

Bev Young (March 1, 2017): Bev’s experience as the mother of a son with schizophrenia led her to start a national organization to address mental health needs. Today the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the organization Bev started with another Madison mom, Harriet Shetler, has affiliates in every state and more than 1,100 communities. In April 1977, they brought 13 people together at a supper club in Madison and came up with a name: Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI), partly because its acronym meant “friend” in French.

Amy Judy (Feb. 12, 2017): Amy’s mission as an attorney crystallized for her when she headed up an initiative that sought protections for women with disabilities who are vulnerable to physical and psychological harassment, abuse and violence. She launched and led a multi-year study at Disability Rights Wisconsin. This work yielded a body of information and insight, policy prescriptions, training materials, and events that helped us all understand that the vulnerability of women with disabilities is primarily an issue of a power imbalance in relationships and interactions, including those based on roles of caregiving.

Dan Johnson (March 22, 2017): Dan patiently and persistently moved Wisconsin from a state that relied on institutions for people with disabilities to a state with a national reputation for building flexible and individualized supports that encouraged people to be engaged, productive and valued within their families, their neighborhoods, their workplaces and their communities. He was a member of a band of hopeful and imaginative advocates who launched Society’s Assets, one of eight independent living centers across the state. He mobilized initiatives in state government that aimed state and federal resources to assist the independence and productivity of people with disabilities. He and his wife, Cathy, fostered 20 children, many with significant challenges, and adopted six of them.

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Susan Tess (July 15, 2017): Powered by cigarettes and coffee, Susan was a fierce advocate. From her small space at Disability Rights Wisconsin, Susan wore away resistance to her plans for vulnerable children and adults with disabilities to have a visible presence, respected role, adequate support and human connection with people who cared about them. Imagine a stream of hundreds of people following the exit signs from segregated classrooms and institutions and marching toward the light, thanks to Susan Tess.

Madison misses these visionary citizens, whose habits and actions made common bond with a brilliantly expanded idea of “We, the People.” We will do our best to pick up their beacon and move forward.

Marcie Brost and Howard Mandeville contribute their work to the Wisconsin Developmental Disabilities Network to foster citizenship and inclusive community.

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