Here's my first parent mentor, Joan Lawrence. You might not notice the steely determination in her eyes. It is still there and did it
ever enrapture me, mere months after my daughter was born with the label of Down syndrome.
I showed up raw, bombastic, angry, enthusiastic,
hurt, confused, ready to flail at anything that moved. She invited me
to tea. The boisterous puppy and the elegant lady. Hopefully I've
changed. Thankfully she hasn't.
She was patient with me from the
start. Me, ready to criticize all the 'stupid' policies, politicians,
professionals, that were in my way. She, asking about my family. Me, throwing a
dozen ideas in the air. She, pointing out the ones I would be wasting my
time on. Always proscriptive never prescriptive.
The look in her eyes
told you she was an advocacy veteran and what it would take for you to become one too. It took others to tell me
of her advocacy exploits. These included creating an early childhood development centre at the University of British Columbia. And expecting that her son Keith would attend the local community centre programs with others his own age. We are still struggling with these issues today – imagine the discipline, determination and adroitness required 45 years ago. She and others were fighting prevailing thinking that had existed for centuries with no examples to rely on – just love, and intuition. Still they fought ignorance and neglect with hope, persistence and good cheer. Never as martyrs or victims. I still hear stories about staff more nervous about her visits than from government
inspectors! The trajectory of Keith's life became the backdrop for ushering into existence the supports, programs and services for our sons and daughters that we risk
taking for granted.
diverged for a while but converged in the creation of PLAN. While
always my friend, at the board room table her questions were sharp and penetrating. She needed to understand everything to be a responsible board member and parent representative – the highest calling in her view. I never got away with anything – come prepared
or leave embarrassed. However, come to her with a bold idea and
leave emboldened. Her confidence made it possible to attempt the impossible. Her faith would pick you up for another try. She'd marvel at your big idea and cheer you through to completion. Marvelous! Wow! That's wonderful! Congratulations! You could count on her trust through successes and failures.
has thrown a lot at her. Including the death of her dear son Keith.
Yet her smile reveals a life force more dominant than grief and sadness. One of the proudest moments in my life was watching her receive the
Meritorious Medal from the Governor General for the invention of PLAN
along with Vickie and Jack Collins – another dear mentor – and
Joan Lawrence who inducted me into the royal family
of parent advocacy still graces me and our movement with generosity and curiosity. I love her.
Who's your mentor? Please write and tell me. Better still, join the electronic town hall we have created to share our stories as family advocates. It's called FamilyTalks.
We want to revive the family advocacy movement and one way is by appreciating our champions.
Also, do visit our wiki-pedia entry on the Parent Advocacy Movement. Help us complete our history, honour our elders and carry their passion forward.