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For Sarah: Val Bradley Eulogizes Sarah Taub
By Val Bradley
It is an extraordinary privilege to speak about my dear friend and colleague, Sarah. For 17 years, she has been a steady and powerful presence in my life and has put the imprint of her grace and intelligence on every aspect of the organization that was her professional home, the Human Services Research Institute. There are those that say that everything of value that we will know in this life comes from our relationships with those around us – if that is so, Sarah gave me and those who have worked with her at HSRI value beyond price.
While I am proud to have been her mentor, the truth is that she tutored me as well. Among my many shortcomings is a tendency to be impulsive. When I moved too rapidly to a conclusion or a course of action, Sarah was there to gently suggest that I slow down pointing out the possible perils and consequences. Sarah always thought things through, read and researched before coming to a conclusion, and brought integrity and foresight to all that she did.
Among the many contributions that will constitute Sarah’s legacy in our field is her leadership of the National Core Indicators – a major initiative in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities that now encompasses 37 states – all of which contribute to a national data base on the lives of people with disabilities. This initiative – which began in 1997 – has been an enormous success and has recently attracted significant federal funding.
The prominence of NCI is in large measure due to Sarah. She oversaw all aspects of NCI –the collection of data, the analysis of data, the selection of topics for articles, the preparation of reports, the adaptation of technology, the design and revision of surveys, and relationships with our colleagues at the National Association of Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services. As one of those colleagues said, Sarah was “the heart and soul of NCI.” That NCI is a fixture in so many states is a testimony to her ability to inspire those around her with a sense of mission and purpose. That inspiration continues to guide those she worked with and will be a beacon into the indefinite future.
Sarah’s commitment to people with disabilities and their families was present in all that she did. For her, our work was not just about statistical significance and data points but always about making people’s lives better. Early in her career she worked in a group home for people with disabilities and became close to many of those she served. She was a fierce advocate for her former clients and brought that sense of connection to her work at HSRI. She never let us forget the people behind the numbers.
Her work on behalf of people with disabilities was not just confined to HSRI. She also served on the Board of the Newton Wellesley Weston Committee for Community Living. The Executive Director of the agency remembered Sarah’s leadership on the Board during a difficult time, and her compassion, caring and thoughtfulness. She was especially thankful for Sarah’s ability to negotiate difficult conversations and issues.
Sarah had a quiet and calm presence that some people mistook as reticence. The truth was that Sarah was someone who chose her words carefully and picked her moments to intervene. This facility sometimes surprised people who thought Sarah was shy only to see her blow away an audience with the precision and eloquence of her remarks.
As you all probably know, Sarah and I shared a passion for the Red Sox which ever so occasionally was rewarded. On a trip to Seattle several years ago to attend an international conference, we decided to take an Australian colleague, who had never seen a baseball game, to watch the Red Sox play the Mariners. We got tickets at the last minute and ended up sitting in the nosebleed seats. Ironically, we managed to sit in front of probably the only Yankees fans in the entire stadium. Throughout the game they continued to razz us with comments only members of the Evil Empire could have dreamed up. Our Australian friend is probably still confused.
I was also lucky enough to travel to Rome with Sarah where we split our time between the meetings at the European conference – where Sarah had a starring role -- and touring that amazing city with two wonderful guides. We discovered a small restaurant tucked away behind a gourmet food store and went back twice savoring the food and wine and congratulating ourselves on finding a hidden treasure.
As you all know, Sarah also had a silly and fun loving side. As one friend and colleague put it, “she had one of the highest ‘words spoken to making you laugh ratios” of anyone he’d ever met.
A colleague who went to graduate school with Sarah remembered the laughs she and Sarah shared when they field tested the NCI Consumer Survey in Connecticut in the late 90s. She told me that some of the untested questions elicited very funny answers. One young autistic man – with a penchant for repetition, was asked, "Are you happy with the money you earn?" He said, in a very loud voice, "You mean my money? My money that is mine?" "Yes," they said. "Am I happy with my money?" "Yes, are you happy with your money?" "The money that is mine?" "Yes" "You mean, my money?" They gave up. We subsequently dropped the question but this misfire became a running joke in the office.
On that same trip, the friend also remembered Sarah laughing as they left a home with 26 cats and four chain smokers. With four cats crawling over her, Sarah cautiously asked the person with a disability whether he was happy with his home. The answer was, "No, I would like to have a few more cats!” Not clear how to score that.
Sarah was a thoughtful and supportive colleague. She was empathetic and caring without expecting anything in return. At parties, she was the one who made sure that everyone had a ride home. She was alert to the pain of others and in her quiet way was there with a kind word and a shoulder to cry on when needed. She will also be remembered as a mentor to those she worked with and someone who continually exhorted those around her to fulfill their ambitions and potential.
At HSRI, we have decided to do three things in Sarah’s memory. First we will be holding a celebration of her life this Fall to which colleagues, family and friends will be invited. Second, we are going to sponsor a Sarah Taub webinar series that will showcase emerging issues in our field bolstered by information gained from NCI. And third, we will sponsor a Sarah Taub summer fellowship at HSRI for a Ph.D. or Masters student.
Sarah’s dignity and gentle grace will remain with all of us who knew and loved her. She succeeded in living a life that made everyone she touched a better person. She will be sorely missed.< Back