Monday, June 26, 2006

Remembering Rosalie Wolf

It’s hard to believe that today marks the fifth anniversary of Rosalie Wolf’s death. For many of us, her presence is still very much felt. Almost daily, we see citations to her work, references to JEAN, and news about the organizations she spearheaded and the awards she inspired.

But beyond these tangible reminders is something less concrete. In many ways, Rosalie set the tone for our field. It was a tone of inclusiveness, an insistence that researchers and practitioners make the effort to abide each other’s peculiarities, and that social workers and police listen to each other’s points of view. Interdisciplinary exchange isn't easy in a field as diverse as ours. Our ranks include medical examiners, bankers, judges, FBI agents, fire fighters, private investigators, animal rights activists, prosecutors, researchers, ethicists, clergy, psychiatrists, and many, many others. But the diversity that Rosalie promoted nourished our field and enriched us personally.

In the early days of our field, there was no real downside to being inclusive. There was little competition and few competitors, let alone funds to compete for. When NCPEA’s board argued over whether or not to extend our mission to address the needs of younger, disabled clients or self-neglectors, there was no compelling reason not to. There was always more room at the table. The default was invariably to include.

Things are different today. There are more opportunities, and with them, more potential for conflict. With major public policy on the horizon, how we define elder abuse and the clients we serve matters. The answers to questions like “Is it only abuse when the elder is dependent? When the victim knows the perp? When there is a perp?” have consequences for caseloads, policy and practice. Whom we work with also matters more. New constituencies have emerged posing new headaches and new possibilities. Today, more than ever, we need interdisciplinary discussion and debate. We need the kind of forums that Rosalie created and led. We need the “Rosalie factor.”

Rosalie also set a tone of inquisitiveness. Her curiosity was insatiable and contagious. I never heard her mention retirement; it was unthinkable to her to quit as long as there was something new to explore or a new project to take on. Even as her health declined, she participated in important events like the Our Aging Population symposium and the National Symposium on Forensics Issues in Elder Abuse. She addressed the National Academy of Sciences study panel on abuse. Just weeks before her death, she left the hospital against medical advice to make a speech in Ohio. As nerve-wracking as some of her actions were to those around her, they were her M.O. This was the work she loved and thrived on.

To those of us who considered her a friend, colleague, teacher, collaborator or mentor, she was, above all, an inspiration.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

catorLisa, I just read your blog. 5 Years ago, you remember Rosalie. On the 10th anniversary of her death, your thoughts still ring true. Here's to Rosalie's legacy of elder abuse prevention, a field of inclusiveness, a spirit of sincere partnerships and collaboration, in prevention and protection of elders and persons with disabilities who are abused, neglected, and exploited.May those who serve, remain strong, and committed to making a difference.

Bettye Mitchell,
National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse,
founderr, Rosalie Wolf