Braille Monitor                                                    March 2008

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Celebrating a Life of Imagination, Inspiration, and Influence:
Remembering Betsy Zaborowski

Hundreds of Federationists and other friends conducted a memorial celebration in honor of Betsy Zaborowski, late executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, on Sunday, January 27, 2008, in Members Hall of the Jernigan Institute. Over six hundred of Betsy’s friends, family members, and admirers, many of whom were on the East Coast in anticipation of the 2008 Washington Seminar, assembled to pay tribute to her life and legacy. Kevan Worley, chairman of the NFB Imagination Fund, served as master of ceremonies. His humor and heartfelt emotion recalled Betsy’s contributions and captured her spirit. The crowd laughed and cheered as Kevan sprinkled his introductions of the speakers with a few newly learned Polish words in honor of Betsy’s heritage.

Hundreds of Federationists watch a video presentation celebrating Betsy Zaborowski’s accomplishments.An arrangement of burgundy lillies, white pompoms, and pink and white dogwood covered the front of the podium. A large screen accommodated long-distance viewing of the speakers, and guests sat at tables throughout the room. Each table setting included a memorial program featuring highlights of Betsy’s life and a blue and white Imagination pin.

Following the moving two-hour program, guests celebrated Betsy’s life accomplishments and our memories of her over a catered feast featuring Polish sausages, pirogues, potatoes, and others of Betsy’s favorite Polish dishes. As people mingled and reminisced about Betsy’s spirit and determination, many stepped across the hall to visit the newly dedicated Betsy Zaborowski Conference Room (formerly the Jernigan Institute Conference Room) to see the newly commissioned charcoal portrait of Betsy, drawn by Ashleigh Meusel, that dominates the west wall of the room. According to NFB Executive Director for Operations Mary Ellen Jernigan, this rendering “captures a vigorous, charming, challenging, and joyous Betsy.”

The memorial celebration program offered a variety of perspectives from personal friends and professional colleagues, representing the many facets of Betsy’s life. Without reprinting word for word the remarks of each presenter, an article like this cannot do justice to the depth of feeling, profound respect, poignant remembrances, and funny anecdotes offered by the speakers in their effort to recall and reclaim the essence of Betsy’s fully lived life as they had known her. Collectively, though, the presentations paid tribute to an accomplished professional, visionary administrator, hard-hitting blindness and gender advocate, politically and civically engaged activist, and compassionate friend and spouse. Together the speakers evoked the image of a one-of-a-kind woman whose life has influenced thousands and helped to revolutionize opportunities for blind people across America.

Father William Murphy of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Betsy’s spiritual advisor and friend for seven years, began the program with a blessing. Mark Riccobono, newly appointed executive director of the Jernigan Institute, spoke of the professional mentoring that Betsy had provided him, and he promised to work hard to continue the legacy she left us, motivated by her perseverance and unquenchable spirit. Mark then introduced an NFB-produced video that chronicled Betsy’s professional career, emphasizing in particular her influence on the development of the Jernigan Institute.

Describing Betsy’s strength and love of professional networking, Barbara Perrier-Dreyer, president of Connections Academy, spoke of their friendship and mutual involvement in Network 2000, a circle of businesswomen working and living in Baltimore. Barbara explained that, when Betsy learned that Barbara too had cancer, she sent her one of her collection of hats along with a note urging her to be strong and admonishing that “Chemo’s not for sissies.” Floraine Applefeld, a long-time friend of Betsy's, joined Barbara in offering her heart-felt condolences at Betsy's death.

Two international dignitaries then came to the podium to remember Betsy’s border-transcending contributions to the blindness community. Penny Hartin, chief executive officer of the World Blind Union (WBU), said that Betsy exemplified the WBU slogan adopted from Kenneth Jernigan and the NFB, “changing what it means to be blind,” and she extended condolences on behalf of WBU President William Roland and the one hundred and fifty million blind people represented by the organization. Lord Colin Low of Dalston, chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, next charmed the gathering by observing that a strong correlation between the type of cancer Betsy had and superior intelligence seems to exist. On a more somber note Lord Low spoke of Betsy’s personal qualities, love of philosophy and academics, memorable style, and passion for her work. Lord Low concluded by saying that Betsy would always be remembered and regarded as “a treasure in the pantheon of Federation greats.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’MalleyRaymond Kurzweil, cofounder, chairman, and chief executive officer of knfb Reading Technology, Incorporated, characterized Betsy as a woman of warmth, wit, compassion, sense of purpose, and imagination. Mr. Kurzweil mentioned the knfb Reading Technology, Incorporated, joint venture with the NFB during his remarks, but only to announce that the slated Monday, January 28, 2008, unveiling of the knfbReader Mobile reading unit would be dedicated to Betsy’s honor and memory.

NFB President Marc Maurer next offered a touching eulogy of Betsy, reflecting on her professional competence, tough-minded spirit, and visionary outlook, each in evidence starting when she first joined the staff of the Federation and assumed the roles first of director of special programs and then executive director of the Jernigan Institute. President Maurer concluded his remarks by urging everybody to “imagine Betsy Zaborowski.”

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski speaks at the podium.A testament to Betsy’s reputation and the esteem in which she was held was made clear by the fact that both Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski offered sincere tributes to Betsy’s devotion to public policy that advanced opportunities for America’s blind community.

As the program drew to a close, Jessica Bachicha, an NFB scholarship winner, leader in the student division, and graduate student in vocal performance at the New England Conservatory of Music, deeply moved the audience with her performance of “On Eagles’ Wings,” one of Betsy’s favorite songs. Curtis Chong of Des Moines, Iowa, accompanied Jessica on the piano.

James Gashel, Betsy’s spouse of eighteen years, was the final speaker of the day. The memorial celebration program characterized Mr. Gashel as Betsy’s soul mate, a leader and member of the NFB since 1965, and the vice president of marketing for knfb Reading Technology, Incorporated. Jim spoke fervently of his love for Betsy, the void that her absence has left in his life, and his affectionate memories of her sassy style and commanding personality. In personal tribute to Betsy, Jim introduced a second video—one that he had personally compiled and produced—that featured a series of personal photographs of the two of them living a fun-filled life. Pictures of their wide-ranging travels, their skiing adventures, and their families flashed across a monitor, accompanied by the popular song “You Raise Me Up.” This montage was a fitting benediction to Betsy’s memorial celebration—an event in equal measure full of laughter, love, and loss.

What follows is the biographical sketch and statement about Betsy Zaborowski taken from the program of her memorial celebration. It summarizes who she was and what she achieved. Here it is:

Dr. Betsy A. Zaborowski was the first executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. It was her imagination, leadership, and dynamic personality that turned a dream, a one-of-a-kind research and training institute developed and directed by blind people, into reality—a reality that presents a future full of opportunities and previously unimagined accomplishments.

Dr. Zaborowski first became a member of the NFB in 1979. She served the organization in a number of volunteer leadership roles including treasurer of the Colorado affiliate and president of the NFB Human Services Division. She joined the NFB staff in 1995 as director of special programs. Her work in that position focused on building a bridge between the community and the blind. She brought energy and vision to this role, and she built new programs harnessing the collective experience of the blind.

Mary Ellen Jernigan describes the charcoal drawing of Betsy.With tireless dedication she took on the leadership of a twenty-million-dollar capital campaign to build a new one-hundred-and-seventy-thousand-square foot facility adjacent to the National Center for the Blind. More than a building, this research and training institute was a dream, a hope for the future, the next innovation in the progress the blind have been making for ourselves since we organized in 1940 to establish the NFB.

In 2001 her leadership, along with the parallel leadership of her partner and husband James Gashel, was honored when the couple was presented with the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the NFB’s highest national recognition of exemplary service. With her leadership in the capital campaign and her imagination in crafting the early vision for the Institute, it was only fitting that on December 1, 2003, the NFB named Dr. Zaborowski as the first executive director of the Jernigan Institute. For three and one-half years Dr. Zaborowski built the Institute by establishing outstanding programs and partnerships that had not been previously imagined.

During the eight years prior to joining the staff of the NFB, she worked as a clinical psychologist in Baltimore. Along with a successful private practice, she taught in the School of Continuing Studies graduate education counseling program at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and lectured at the JHU School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Before her move from Colorado to Baltimore in 1987, she practiced in the field of health psychology for Kaiser Permanente, served as a mental health and university-based counselor, and worked for six years as a grade six to twelve guidance counselor.

Jessica Bashicha, accompanied by Curtis Chong, sings gloriously.Dr. Zaborowski received her doctorate in psychology from the University of Denver and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Menomonie. As a psychologist she served on and chaired the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology, and she was chair of the Women’s Committee and delegate-at-large for the Maryland Psychological Association (MPA) executive council.

Standing at the podium in Members Hall, Jim Gashel pays loving tribute to his late wife. A beautiful floral arrangement is massed in front of the podium.In 1997 the Governor of Maryland appointed Dr. Zaborowski to the Maryland Information Technology Board. She was the first chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities and was appointed to two terms on the Baltimore City Women’s Commission. She also served for several years on the Governor’s Advisory Board on People with Disabilities and consulted for numerous organizations and companies in areas such as time management, stress management, sexual harassment, leadership skills, and disability issues.

The Daily Record chose Dr. Zaborowski as one of Maryland’s top one hundred women in 1998 and 2000. In 2003 she was recognized again with this award and was among a select group of previous honorees inducted into the Circle of Excellence of Maryland’s Top One Hundred Women. In 2004 Smart Woman Magazine featured her on its cover, and in 2005 Smart CEO Magazine featured Dr. Zaborowski as one of twenty-five admired Maryland leaders.

A native of Wisconsin, Betsy had a boundless love of life that included pride in her Polish heritage and unwavering support for the Green Bay Packers. Deeply religious, Dr. Zaborowski was a member of the Catholic Church. In addition to her active professional life, she enjoyed skiing and the camaraderie of a good soiree. Top among her favorites was hosting the Polish Christmas party at her home in Baltimore.
On November 29, 2007, Dr. Z, as she was affectionately known, lost a nine-month battle with cancer. Yet her spirit, determination, vision, and faith in the work of the blind are evidenced by the Institute’s accomplishments today and those of the future.

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