On June 15, The Arc Baltimore held a tribute dinner for the now retired Executive Director Steve Morgan with nearly 300 of his closest family members, friends and colleagues. Here are his final remarks.
Wow. This is quite overwhelming.
Even though throughout the years I suspected there were some people who’d like to see me leave The Arc, I never imagined there were so many of you.
Seriously, thanks to all of you for being here this evening. In a moment, I’ll say more about how and what that means to me.
In thinking about what to say this evening, I debated whether to prepare remarks or simply speak off the cuff. I decided to prepare a bit fearing my mind could go numb from emotion and render me incoherent. And besides, I’m always willing to go off script when the mind or heart says it’s right. But I did set one ground rule for myself which I knew was right as soon as I walked in the room and saw such a great turnout and that ground rule was to avoid mentioning anyone by name. And that’s not so much for fear of leaving anyone out but more because there are simply way too many for whom I am so grateful for their support and friendship.
Okay I must make a few exceptions of course or I may not be able to go home this evening. My wife, Dianna, who has been not only a supportive spouse but also a favorite colleague at The Arc as well. She has not only supported my leadership but also was an essential collaborator, my co-producer, in creating our two wonderful children Matt and Meghan. We only take a little credit for how successful they have been and for the fact that they have joined us in what is sometimes called the helping professions. They are joined by their spouses Emily and Andrew. And my sister and brothers and their spouses – too numerous to mention by name – you know big Catholic family – though I must give a special shout out to my brother Tom and his wife Janet who made the trip here from Houston Texas. Thanks. (Thought you were escaping the heat huh?) And thanks to other extended family as well. And perhaps I should have started with an expression of love and thanks to my now departed parents. They supported me throughout my life and I recall fondly the pride they felt for the successes of The Arc. Like when my father who spent his later years using a wheel chair came to the grand opening of our headquarters building in Towson and it was fully accessible. He got around with ease. And my mother was beaming at my 25th anniversary celebration in the Governor’s meeting room in Annapolis (the Governor wasn’t there but Mom didn’t care – she was impressed we were able to get in the place.)
Well enough reminiscing.
I’ve been privileged to be honored a few times in the past year and just last week as I stood at the podium to say thanks, an image or metaphor came to mind as I looked out at those present, and that same image is even more compelling as I look at all you here this evening. And that image is that of a mirror. That I am a mirror. And so, when you look at me you see yourself in that mirror. And seeing yourself in that mirror being honored tonight is the metaphor. That the recognition I am receiving tonight is a reflection of what each and every one of you has done to support the successes that The Arc and I have enjoyed under what I would argue is our collective teamwork, our collaboration of support.
And the key part of our collective team, first and foremost always, are those individuals we support and for and with whom we advocate. Over the years, I have often been asked what kept me at The Arc all these years and it was always an easy answer- the people. Every day, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face challenges we can barely imagine. Yet, they persevere in learning new skills, working to get and keep a job they like, forming lifelong relationships, and seeking opportunities to enjoy the same kinds of daily pursuits we all do. They inspire me and have motivated me to work my hardest to ensure they get the support and opportunities they deserve.
Nearly equal in their impact, the parents and other family members of those we support are another inspiration. Beginning with the parents who founded The Arc 67 years ago, they continue the legacy of the original mission – that their children deserve the same rights and opportunities as everyone to be included in the community. Though most of the original founders are no longer here, they are still with us in spirit and their children and grandchildren have inherited their legacy of advocacy.
My professional colleagues, both the staff within The Arc Baltimore as well as those from other chapters of The Arc and other nonprofit organizations, have helped sustain me. The Arc is so fortunate to have such an incredibly caring and committed staff. I have been blessed not only with an incredible senior management team, leadership team, and administrative staff but also great support staff like nurses, psych associates and of course those who are the backbone of the organization – the direct support professionals – the job coaches, the house counselors, the CLA’s, day program staff and all the front-line staff who make our mission a reality in peoples’ lives each day. They too are energized by those we support and work hard and creatively to help people have the life they choose and deserve. I have learned much from them.
Likewise, my peers from other chapters of The Arc and other nonprofits have helped me to grow professionally and to learn about the best and most promising practices and strategies. These colleagues and our staff at The Arc, take our work very seriously, but we also learned not to take ourselves too seriously, and to have some fun along the way. I am thankful for all of them.
I would of course be remiss if I did not acknowledge our volunteers, our partners in government, our donors, foundation partners, and sponsors, the employers, and all other partners but most especially the volunteer members of our Board of Directors who have been so giving of their time, talent and treasure. They have been and continue to be an incredible resource. Beyond carrying out their fiduciary responsibilities, they are always opening new doors to new partners and resources – especially in reaching out to businesses and organizations willing to hire individuals trained and referred by The Arc.
And while I’m expressing my appreciation for all the Board leaders I’ve worked with through the years, let me violate my no names rule once more and single out current Board president Neil MacDonald. Neil and his steady hand guided the Transition committee and ultimately the full Board through the demanding process of transition planning, search and selection – a process that entailed myriad meetings and interviews taking countless hours. Though it turned out that the bird in the hand was worth more than the two in the bush (see me later if you can’t figure out what that means), Neil and his committee didn’t shy away from the intensive due diligence that bore out that conclusion.
Ironically, Neil’s term as President ends on the 30th of this month, the same as my final day. I remember at one of the first Transition meetings Neil cracked that he was looking forward to taking the credit for finally getting me out of here. Of course, he was kidding, right Neil? Neil?
And one more name – of course – Kathleen McNally Durkin whose selection to succeed me is not only the best choice – well it’s just wonderful. I’ll come back to you in a moment.
I hope everyone saw The Arc’s recent annual report that described many of our organizations key milestones since its beginning 67 years ago. And though The Arc and I were born just days apart, the report’s later years draws parallels with my career trajectory and key things happening at The Arc.
So, as I end a nearly 45-year absolutely wonderful career here at The Arc Baltimore, I look back not so much with pride but perhaps extreme satisfaction at a career magnificently well-spent. Working here has never been boring. I’ve witnessed incredible personal successes for those we support and been part of a team of colleagues and dedicated volunteers who are nothing short of remarkable.
Early in my career here I learned about a phenomenon sometimes called ‘The Arc movement’ — a unique collaboration of family advocates, self-advocates and professionals with common values and goals, and I was privileged to be a part of it. It has created a sea-change and I had a front row seat to the impact that movement has had on the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
Though I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of me, guitar in hand with long hair, leading sing-a-longs at “BARC’s Camp Adventure”, my first full-time job was as an instructor in one of our Child Development Centers (a.k.a. Searchlight Training Centers). The Arc sponsored these centers back then because children with more severe disabilities were excluded from receiving a public education. And although that wrong was righted when, in 1975, Congress passed “The Right to Education for All Handicapped Children Act”, we must never forget it has not always been that way. And though Congress removed the barriers to community living by passing the Fair Housing Amendments that removed local zoning restrictions and allowed small group homes to locate in regular neighborhoods, we must never forget it has not always been that way. And when we celebrate the passage of The Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 that ensured access and opportunity for all in employment, public transportation and other public accommodations, we must never forget it has not always been that way. And when we recall the many lesser known but very important milestones which resulted from the collective grassroots efforts of all of us associated with The Arc movement, we must never forget it has not always been that way.
When I watched former President Barack Obama speak when accepting the JFK Profiles in Courage Award a month or two ago, I was struck by a phrase he used. He said we must always remember that “Progress is fragile” – “Progress is fragile”. A clearly more elegant way of saying “we must never forget it has not always been that way.” We understand Mr. President…we understand.
So as June 30th draws near, I’m feeling both excitement and trepidation and though I look forward to plans for travel and relaxation, perhaps even a part-time “encore” career, I will miss our time together deeply. Dianna and I are staying in the area and won’t be strangers to The Arc. Once the passion for The Arc movement captures you, there is no walking away. So, I will continue to be an ardent advocate for all that The Arc stands for. And of course, I will support the continued success of The Arc and the transition to my successor in whatever ways I can.
But before I close, please indulge me in one more violation of my no names rule because I must thank Kate McGuire and her co-conspirators Lauren Seabolt and Chris Knoerlein for all the hard work and real passion they put into creating this very special tribute for me tonight. I hope it felt like a labor of love to you because it sure has for me.
Which brings me to me to the conclusion of this transition to The Arc Baltimore of the future. I mentioned earlier how excited I am over the appointment of Kathleen McNally Durkin to succeed me. Those of you who know Kathleen know what I mean when I say she is an incredible leader and a smart, experienced professional who is the ideal choice to lead The Arc Baltimore into a future that will clearly be wrought with challenges but also opportunities. Kathleen – I don’t need to wish or hope for your success, because I am certain of it. But I do want to leave you with one final note of reassurance….
“I’M ONLY ONE CALL AWAY; I’LL BE THERE TO SAVE THE DAY
SUPERMAN’S GOT NOTHING ON ME; I’M ONLY ONE CALL AWAY’