Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
P.O. Box 1797
Richmond, VA 23218
BA, Oberlin College, 1979
JD, College of William & Mary, Marshall-Wythe School of Law, 1984
Sorensen Institute, Political Leaders Program, University of Virginia, 2007
Professional/business/civic/nonprofit organizations in which you are/have been involved and positions held:
Virginia Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, Commissioner (October 2006 – present)
Blacksburg Arts Initiative, Collaborative for the Arts, Member (2008 – present)
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) National Advisory Board, Member (2005 – 2007)
CIT International, Inc., Founding Board Member and Secretary (2007 – present)
State Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (BHDS) Board, (June 2004 – August 2008; Vice-Chair, 2005 – 2006; Chair, 2006 – 2008)
DBHDS Forensic Special Populations Workgroup, Member (2003 – 2008)
Virginia Office of Protection and Advocacy, PAIMI Council, Member (2003 – 2004)
Mental Health Association of the New River Valley Board of Directors, Member (1999 – 2002; Chair 2001 – 2002)
NAACP, Sustaining Life Member (beginning in 1999)
Montgomery County Race Relations Workgroup, Founder and Co-convenor (1999-2001)
FutureWorks Board Member and Secretary (1997-1998)
Legal Aid Society of the New River Valley, Board Member (1991-1993; President 1992-1993)
Sweet Adeline’s Wilderness Road Chorus and the Terra Nova Barbershop Quartet (1994 – 1997)
Blacksburg Master Chorale, Member and Soloist (1990 – 1997)
Who were the important mentors you have had and how did they impact your career?
I have benefitted much and from many mentors over the years. All of them have nurtured, supported and guided my career – but they have also challenged me to explore new directions, new ideas and new approaches. These are some of the important lessons they have provided:
My first choir director and voice teacher taught me that 100 voices joined together conveys more meaning than a single voice; my husband, a political leader and activist for over thirty years, taught me that change is not only possible, but worth fighting for; my father, one of the most skillful attorneys I know, taught me that intellectual rigor and thoughtful analysis is more powerful than ad hominem attack; my mother, a creative spirit and author, taught me that choosing the right words isn’t a matter of political correctness but an essential means of effective communication.
Their lessons and their encouragement established a firm foundation for my current work as a boundary spanner between the behavioral health and criminal justice systems. Working together with stakeholders representing government agencies, criminal justice and mental health professionals, community leaders, advocates, family members and individuals with behavioral health issues we are re-examining the way we do business, developing collaborative and supportive relationships, and making changes throughout our systems which will benefit the individuals we serve, the systems with which we all interact and communities across the Commonwealth.
What do you consider your biggest personal and/or professional accomplishment and why?
My biggest professional accomplishment has been in working with law enforcement officers and leadership, mental health professionals and consumers throughout the Commonwealth to assist them in developing, implementing and sustaining successful Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs in their communities. CIT is a collaborative, community supported police based response to mental health crisis calls. Its successful implementation is dependent upon local mental health and criminal justice partnerships that not only provide 40 hours of specialized training for first responders but create systems change at the community level to support effective practices that increase officer and public safety, reduce inappropriate incarceration for individuals with mental illness and enhance linkage to needed treatment and services.
I am so proud of how far CIT in Virginia has come from the day in 2000 when, while attending a conference in DC, I first learned about the Memphis CIT model. What seemed like a good idea led to my working with the local Mental Health Association to secure a Federal grant. The Federal grant led to my facilitating the development of Virginia’s first CIT program (and the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional, rural CIT model). The success of the model in the New River Valley led to advocating with our legislators and our Governor for state funding and legislative action to successfully develop CIT initiatives across the state. The results are amazing: to date, there are 22 CIT initiatives in various stages of development, covering over 50% of the Commonwealth. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was when I was introduced by Senator John Edwards to members of the Senate Courts Committee as “the mother of CIT in Virginia.” But that isn’t why I consider this to be my biggest professional accomplishment. It is the biggest because I have been able to do my part in an effort that has such positive benefits for the people that provide these services and the people they serve.
What advice would you give to a young person graduating from college this spring?
The greatest joys in life can be found in its unpredictability. Fully embrace every change, every challenge, and every choice you make.
How do you achieve a balance between your professional life and your personal life?
My sense of balance is achieved in living and working with equal passion and energy.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
It was my ambition to become either 1) a Broadway actress and singer or 2) a police officer with the NYC mounted patrol division. I trained for both – and I learned skills from both that are pretty helpful to this day.
What is your favorite book or movie and why?
The more I read and the more movies I see mean that my favorite is always changing – so I keep more of a top ten list. But for its lasting impact on my life – I’d have to say Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird always stays in the top ten for many reasons. As a child growing up in the sixties the characters and the situations they faced resonated with me and helped me to understand the social change that was sweeping the nation. The core values of compassion, integrity, and service to others found in its pages continue to inform my life. And, although my father’s exemplary legal career had a lot to do with my becoming a lawyer, I think it is Atticus Finch who inspired me to become a public defender.
What are two things about you that not many people know?
1) That I like to relax by writing haiku.
2) That I actually like to relax.