2015-06-11 / Opinion

Maher Was Compassionate Public Servant

To the Editor:

It was with profound sadness that I received the news of the death of Jack Maher, the long-time former executive director of the James L. Maher Center. Jack was a most effective and fearless champion of persons challenged with developmental problems. I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Jack for over 30 years.

Jack came to the Maher Center just a little after the communitybased system of services for developmentally disabled persons had become established in Rhode Island. The impetus for this system, which would become a model for the entire country, started with family members. Leading the pack was James L. Maher from Newport. He was joined by Arthur Trudeau from Warwick, Frank Olean from Westerly, and the Fogarty family from northern Rhode Island, which included U.S. Congressman John Fogarty. They collectively forged the basic strategy for providing much more humane and efficacious alternatives to institutional care.

Jack really understood and embraced the empowerment of clients and family members. He realized that, with adequate resources, such as caring and skilled staff, supportive family members, an informed public, and sufficient financial support, the clients could improve their lives immeasurably. He knew that if they were given the chance, they would shine. So, he was a dynamic leader in securing employment opportunities for them, which included innovative contracts with the U.S. Navy.

Jack also opened the door to persons with other forms of disabilities, so he and I collaborated on including individuals with mental illness in some of those work opportunities. I recall how proud Jack was in sharing the information about the number of clients who had gone from depending on government-funded programs to employment to paying taxes. It was truly a remarkable accomplishment, providing not only income and independence to clients, but also pride and enhanced selfesteem.

In addition, Jack was the kind of guy who was willing to serve his community through elective office. He was both a member of the Portsmouth Town Council and the state House of Representatives. In each of these positions he was a strong and unwavering voice of the people, but most especially for anyone who needed help. He believed that it was his responsibility to make an even playing field wherever he could.

Jack Maher left an indelible mark on this community and we are all the richer for his work. So, I bow my head in tribute to Jack, a most compassionate public servant.

J. Clement Cicilline

The writer is the former president & CEO, Newport County Community Mental Health Center.

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