Braille Monitor January 2008
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by Marc Maurer
On November 29, 2007, Betsy Zaborowski, "Dr. Z," died after a nine-month struggle with cancer. Until recently she had served as the executive director for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. She enjoyed the distinction of being the first executive director for this institute, a structure and a program intended to expand the influence of the National Federation of the Blind and increase opportunities for blind people. Dr. Zaborowski's background in the National Federation of the Blind and her extraordinary intelligence helped her to recognize the necessity of conducting the work of the institute from the point of view of the blind of the nation organized within the National Federation of the Blind. Research institutes pursue complex theoretical subjects reasonably frequently. Many of them do not ground the work they do in the experiences of individuals who are the subject of the study they conduct. Dr. Zaborowski knew that what she was intended to accomplish was research that would change lives. Therefore she incorporated the feelings, the dreams, and the daily experience of the blind in the research she directed.
I first met Dr. Zaborowski, I believe, in 1984 at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. She was working in the field of psychology, an area of endeavor that she found fascinating. By 1996 Dr. Zaborowski had become a full-time employee of the National Federation of the Blind. She brought to us a restless energy that stimulated a constant effort to create new programs and inspire plans for new direction in the Federation. Hers was a restless spirit but a joyous one. Where she was, there also were new development, energy, a thriving introspection, and demand for excellence.
Dr. Zaborowski gave meaning to what a research and training institute on blindness can be when it is operated by the blind themselves. Her legacy will carry us well into the twenty-first century and will inspire us for the foreseeable future.
The Baltimore Sun printed an obituary about Betsy on November 30 that said:
Betsy A. Zaborowski
The former executive director of an innovative institute helped blind people pursue independent lives.
by Frederick N. Rasmussen
Betsy A. Zaborowski, who had been diagnosed with retinal blastoma at a young age and later became blind, devoted her entire life to fighting the notion that blindness is a tragedy.
Dr. Zaborowski, former executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, died early yesterday of cancer at her Denver home. The former Ednor Gardens resident, who had moved to Colorado only this week, was fifty-eight. It was Dr. Zaborowski's wish that she return to the new Denver home that she and her husband had purchased last month, and on Tuesday she left Baltimore for the last time aboard an air ambulance. She had served as executive director of the innovative institute, the first of its type in the nation, which provided education, employment, and adaptive technology for the blind, from 2003 until this year, when she stepped down because of failing health.
At her death Dr. Zaborowski was a senior adviser to the NFB. "Dr. Betsy Zaborowski's service to the blind of the nation was extraordinary," Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said in a statement released yesterday. "As the first director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, she materially increased opportunities for blind youth and blind adults for at least the next generation," he said. "She was an extraordinary leader, and she had a warm heart."
"Betsy's work and accomplishment represent the spirit and imaginative approach she brought to changing lives in a positive way," said Mark Riccobono, who succeeded Dr. Zaborowski as director of the Jernigan Institute in July. "She was brilliant at thinking of what the next big thing was going to be and how we could put the pieces together, and then she used her leadership skills to make it happen," he said. "She was a dynamic lady who got things done, and I always marveled how she used her Midwestern people skills to that end."
Mr. Riccobono praised the "vigorous attitude" that she brought to whatever she was doing. "However, there was always a balance in her life between work and play, and she could do both extremely well. She achieved a lot but always recommended that there be a balance, and people were to have fun," he said.
Dr. Zaborowski was born October 7, 1949, and raised in Thorp, Wisconsin, where she graduated from high school. "She was three years old when diagnosed with retinal blastoma and was treated at the University of Chicago Medical Center. It's a very rare cancer, and most children diagnosed with it don't survive, but Betsy did," said her husband of eighteen years, James Gashel, vice president of marketing for K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., and former executive director for strategic initiatives for the NFB. "She grew up and functioned as a blind person," he said.
Dr. Zaborowski held a bachelor's and master's degree in educational counseling from the University of Wisconsin in Menomonie, and earned her doctorate in psychology from the University of Denver in 1985. From 1970 to 1976, Dr. Zaborowski worked as a junior and senior high school guidance counselor on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In 1976 she moved to Colorado, where she was a mental health and university-based counselor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 1980 she worked in the field of health psychology for Kaiser Permanente in Denver, while studying for her doctorate.
After moving to Baltimore in 1987, Dr. Zaborowski, a clinical psychologist, established a private practice specializing in women's issues. She also was an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Continuing Studies, where she taught a graduate education counseling course. She also frequently lectured at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute. In 1995 Dr. Zaborowski joined the NFB as director of special programs, a position she held until 2003, when she was named executive director of the Jernigan Institute.
"She was an incredible leader and mentor for all blind Americans and especially for me personally," said John Paré, current director for strategic initiatives for the NFB. "She was internationally known and even spoke at a United Nations meeting in New York on behalf of the blind concerning Website accessibility. She has traveled all over the world on behalf of the blind," he said. "She was very energetic and vibrant. You'd be sitting in a chair one moment listening to her, and the next you'd be on your feet because of her ideas and energy," he said.
In 1998 she was selected one of Maryland's Top 100 Women and again in 2000, by the Daily Record. In 2004 Smart Woman magazine featured her on its cover, and the next year Smart CEO featured her as one of twenty-five admired Maryland leaders. Then-Governor Parris N. Glendening appointed her to the Maryland Information Technology Board, and she later was the first chairwoman of the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities. She also served two terms on the Baltimore City Women's Commission.
Dr. Zaborowski was an avid gardener and entertainer. "She had the best flower garden in the 1300 block of East 36th Street," her husband said. "And she loved to throw what she called her `Polish Christmas Party.’ She loved the Polish side of her family and would have eighty or a hundred people over for a holiday party."
Dr. Zaborowski had been a longtime communicant of SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church on North Charles Street. "Betsy would like to be remembered for three things," Mr. Gashel said. "That she was Polish, a Roman Catholic, and a Packers fan."
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Therese
Roman Catholic Church in Aurora, Colorado. Also surviving are a stepson, Eric
Gashel of Ruston, Louisiana; two stepdaughters, Andrea Beasley of Littleton,
Colorado, and Valerie Costanza of Keller, Texas; and two grandchildren.
Jim Gashel, Betsy’s husband, sent a brief reflection to Dr. Zaborowski's email list on the morning that she died. It says:
Memories of Betsy from James Gashel
How do you say goodbye to someone you love as much as life itself?
This morning, November 29, at approximately 2:30 a.m. mountain time, Betsy Zaborowski left this life after a nine-month battle with a rare form of cancer. The Colorado sky was clear, and the moon was shining in the window near her bed. God called Betsy as she went to live with the angels. Her struggle on earth is over.
Betsy's final wish was granted on November 27 when she was flown by air ambulance from Baltimore, Maryland, to Denver, Colorado, where she lived in her new home for two days. She picked the house on a trip to Denver in October. Living in a new home, back in Colorado, was her goal, which she accomplished in true Betsy Zaborowski style.
Betsy will no longer be with us here on earth, the power of her spirit and the
contributions of her life will last forever. Funeral arrangements are pending
at Saint Therese Catholic Church in Aurora, Colorado. Her family requests memorial
contributions to be made to the National Federation of the Blind Imagination
Fund. Written memories of Betsy Zaborowski’s life and work may be sent by mail,
fax, or email to the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland,
at the addresses given below.
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Fax (410) 659-5129