Terry (as he was known by friends and colleagues) had a spinal cord injury from a diving accident he had when he was 23. He was involved in the work of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA, now the United Spinal Association) for 46 years. You can read about Terry’s many professional accomplishments in his recent New York Times Obituary and in this moving tribute from his friend and colleague, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of United Spinal Association, James J. Weisman. But to those of us at ICS who knew Terry, who worked with him at EPVA and on advocacy campaigns, he had a far reaching impact as a friend, mentor, boss and leader. We wanted to share our memories of that Terry with you.
“I remember seeing a video interview of Terry asking about how he moved on from that great life change, from having a spinal cord injury and now needing to use a wheelchair. Looking right into the camera with a twinkle in his eye, he said: ‘I decided there was more to life than just walking.’ With that attitude, Terry went on to change the world, making it a fairer and more accessible place.
“For me, as a young woman, Terry’s most enduring quality was that he was himself. Terry was a charming, smart, funny guy, and he never pretended to be someone he was not. If he was testifying in front of Congress, training bus operators or demanding concessions from the Mayor, he was simply Terry. He taught me by example to be myself. He taught me to work hard and to fight for what is right even when it is not popular. Terry invited me to work on things like the One Step Campaign; when we received a federal grant to provide information and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act, he trusted me to run it. He brought me into the world of transportation and taught me to be a passionate advocate for accessible transit and travel training. Terry led by sharing the spotlight and opportunities, a rare quality in many leaders, always present in the very best leaders.”
Loreen Loonie, Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing
“I started my professional career at EPVA/United Spinal, working for five years under Terry’s tutelage. From a professional standpoint, I credit him for helping me become a strong writer and in the development of fundamental media relations skills. However, I learned so much more from him. Terry, in a sense, acted as a mentor. He taught me, among many other things, how to advocate and persevere when it comes to something you truly believe in. Terry had to deal with barriers on different levels, but always remained patient, while displaying class and professionalism.”
Danny Perry, Director of Community Engagement
“Terry Moakley, single-handedly and very quickly, probably without knowing he was doing it, re-educated me about what being quadriplegic is. I thought quadriplegics were fundamentally disabled, unable to move or take any part in life beyond their beds. Terry just blew that false image I had (which I think way too many people have) right out of the water.
“Here was a man in his early fifties (this was 1995) who was pushing a manual chair around the office, to which he drove every day in his adapted van, taking on piles of work (as the piles of paper on his desk attested). And this was not easy work! It involved composing articles, letters, speeches, driving, riding or flying around the city, state and nation; making the argument for full accessibility to the public, to legislators, and to people with disabilities who were less confident about their abilities than Terry was about his.
“Terry was an educator at heart, and one of the best I’ve ever been taught by. He did not make it feel like a lesson you were learning, but he did have lots to teach. I think he succeeded so well, not only because of his encyclopedic knowledge of accessibility laws, building codes and construction standards (knowledge that came from active engagement in their development), but because he was so accessible himself. He was what they call in Yiddish a mensch—a great guy with a good heart. I hope to honor his memory by keeping up his (and our) good fight.”
Christofer Pierson, Senior Communications Associate
“I’ve had the honor and pleasure of knowing and working with Terry for more than 20 years. Terry set the standard for effective and sound advocacy. While not one to shy away from a protest, Terry’s most effective advocacy tool was his calm, even-tempered attitude and approach to a situation, which was often met with favor by an opposing side on a position.
“Most recently, Terry and I worked on a disability etiquette training campaign for NYC taxi drivers. Not aware of what the outcome of the training would be (after all—it is etiquette and taxi drivers), I followed Terry’s lead and the training was a success. Terry’s demeanor and straight-forward approach from the very start of this program set the tone for a successful exchange between the taxi drivers and the disability community that they were about to serve. As an advocate, I owe a great deal to Terry Moakley. His personal style and manner of getting things done will never be forgotten.”
Marlene Perkins, Manager Delegation Oversight, Compliance
“Terry Moakley was a man with a mission, and I am lucky to have learned the meaning of living a life of purpose from Terry. Many talk about mission-driven organizations, of living a mission-driven life, and of making a career of your passions, but few people can practice this in the way that Terry did. He managed to do all three. His mission and his passion were also his life’s work. Terry had a huge impact on the world and on those around him, but never once did I hear Terry talk about his career or himself as the key to all this change. Terry’s work came from his passion for the rights of people with disabilities. He had the courage to make this his life’s work and in doing so, Terry left this world a better place for all of us.
“During a recent meeting at ICS a few days after Terry’s passing, I shared with the group Terry’s work and the impact he had on the world. I shared the big things like the MTA lawsuit that led to accessible mass transit in NYC and across the country, the Taxi’s for All Campaign, his work improving access to health care for veterans and for all living with spinal cord injuries, his legislative advocacy on all levels of government from local to national, and everything in between.
“What I didn’t share with the group and wish I had are the small moments that happen along the way, moments that impacted those of us who worked with Terry in ways he may not have realized. One of those moments for me came during a legislative session where we were once again fighting for funding of the VA Health Care System. Somehow, as the argument formed, the needs of civilians, in particular Medicare beneficiaries, were pitted against those of veterans. We were getting pummeled in the media for siphoning dollars away from other groups in need.
“Terry and I talked about how this was not a fight between two deserving groups and that all people deserved access to good health care. We needed to respond and I asked Terry if he would write a letter to the editors of the newspapers that were attacking the VA Health Care System. Terry told me to write the letter. Terry was a far better writer than I’ll ever be, and he wrote with such ease that I felt he should do it. He didn’t let me off the hook that easily. He told me that I knew the issue better than anyone and that in talking to him about it I displayed the passion necessary to convey the message.
“I reluctantly agreed to write the letter which was picked up by several newspapers, including the New York Times. What Terry taught me that day was to let my passion for the cause lead the way and to not let my fears get in the way of being a good advocate. I will always carry that lesson with me, and the memories of his purpose-driven life will always be a guide for me.”
Regina Estela, Chief Operating Officer
We send all of Terry’s family and friends our deepest condolences. We have truly lost a great man.