The children’s mental health field has lost a pioneer and an extraordinary advocate with the passing of Virginia (Ginny) Wood. The founding executive director of the statewide family-run organization, Families Together of New York State, Ginny was loved and highly respected. Her perspective, expertise, and consultation were highly valued. Her smile was quick and steady, her voice strong and unwavering. She thought carefully about the issues at hand and always told the truth.
Ginny Wood gave so much to so many and asked only that we keep our vision squarely focused on meeting the needs of children, youth and families.
Our thanks to Mary Armstrong for organizing a letter of remembrances to be shared with Ginny's family and our collective national family. Read the remembrances below and feel free to add your own.
Dear Family and Friends of Ginny,
Many members of Ginny’s national network of friends and colleagues are saddened by her passing. We would like to share with you our thoughts about Ginny’s contributions in the field of children’s mental health and what she has meant to so many of us personally. Some of our colleagues offered the following thoughts about Ginny as a mother, advocate, researcher, student, and above all, a friend.
Jan McCarthy, Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health
- Ginny was our partner for more than five years on a health care reform tracking project. She contributed her own family’s experience in trying to access mental health services to each of our site visits, to every discussion and analysis, and to every publication. She kept the project grounded in reality and never let us forget how families often see the system differently from administrators and providers. During site visits she ably facilitated the family meetings and helped the team learn what really worked or didn't work for families and kids. Her knowledge, her honesty, her sense of humor, and her kindness made her a trusted and effective facilitator.
In addition to the professional expertise Ginny brought to the project, she also brought her wonderful personality. We had many meals and late evening chats together. Ginny loved to gossip (in the good sense of the word) and wanted to know everything about everyone. She was interested in our lives and in sharing hers. She told us of meeting Bob for the first time, what a gentleman he was, and how happy he made her. I so remember her beautiful dimples and wonderful smile. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her.
Gloria Logsdon, Former Associate Commissioner for Children and Families, NYSOMH
- I remember all that Ginny did for the Office of Mental Health and for the children and families of New York State when she was our parent advocate on the federal grant when I first came to the central office. She was an incredibly effective advocate in those days as she worked throughout the state to rally and empower families of children with serious emotional disturbances. Since that time I've had the privilege of continuing our friendship when she was in Tampa for the children’s conference and I was in Arizona on business or vacation over the years. I'm just glad that I was able to spend time with her last spring when we got together for dinner here in Tampa and for lunch in St Pete while she was staying with relatives there.
Our other link of course is that we both have a child with a disability, and although their diagnoses are different, the toll that that takes on our kids and on us as parents strengthened our relationship and brought us closer together.
I'll miss my friend Ginny, but feel very privileged for the times that we shared over the last 20 years, and hope that the fact that Ginny had such a profound impact on New York's children's mental health system, and in other areas of the country, will be a source of both pride and comfort to Ginny's family as they and we mourn her passing.
Trina Osher, Huff-Osher Consulting
- I had the privilege and joy of collaborating with Ginny on several training and technical assistance activities. The most notable was “It’s a Great IDEA!” which enabled hundreds of families across the country become more effective advocates for their children who needed special education. It was always a pleasure to work with her, not only because she was skillful and knowledgeable but because she was passionate and dedicated. Ginny was courageous – even fearless – when it came to advocating for policies and practices that would improve the lives of children, youth, and families. I honor her life and will miss her dearly.
Barbara Huff, Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, Huff-Osher Consulting
- I remember about two months after we opened up the National Federation office in 1992, I received a call from the director of policy at the National Mental Health Association. Critical system of care legislation was in front of a congressional committee with a New York congressman who needed a serious nudge to support it. I called Ginny, and she had a least 20 families contact that congressman in record time. Of course, he did, in fact, change his mind!
Sheila Pires, Human Service Collaborative
- Ginny was a wonderful colleague and friend. I was so happy to work with her on the Health Reform Tracking Project, to which she brought her wisdom, patience, inquisitiveness, and good humor. The project was immeasurably enriched by her involvement. I also called on Ginny many times to get her insights into system changes in Arizona, or to brainstorm ideas to advance partnerships with families, and she was always so generous with her time and thoughts. I will miss her. My heart goes out to her family; please know that she was admired and cherished by so many of us.
Sybil Goldman, Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health
- I am very sad about Ginny. She and I traded emails since I heard about her cancer. I’m currently going through cancer treatment, and we talked about how shocked we each were to get the diagnosis, how difficult the treatments are, how important it is to be positive, and mostly how important it is to have the love and support of friends and family. Ginny was so loved because she was truly a wonderful person – funny, filled with optimism, hard working, a great partner on any project because she always wanted to be helpful and constructive. She was a tremendous advocate for families. I valued and respected her as a colleague in this work devoted to the mental health of children and young people and as a friend. I will miss her.
Mary Evans, University of South Florida
- She taught many of us just what it is like to be a mother of a young person with significant mental health challenges. I also respected her for working so hard as an adult on her bachelor's degree.
Beth Stroul, Management & Training Innovations
- I saw one of Ginny’s last emails in which she said that she was looking through her papers accumulated over 30 years and remembering both working and “funning” with her many colleagues. I am fortunate enough to count myself among those colleagues. Along with Mary, Sheila, and Jan, Ginny and I were part of a team that analyzed state financing for children’s mental health over a five+ year period. Sure we worked diligently, but our work was interspersed with regular doses of funning…..laughter, irreverence, and wine… which only improved the quality of our work. Site visits were involved, and Ginny and I both fought the others mightily for the chance to do the one in Hawaii and triumphed. The couple of extra days we took to enjoy the sun and the beach allowed us to connect in a way that we hadn’t been able to before, and she so generously spent much of the time helping me through a difficult time in my own life. I could talk about her pioneering work in the family movement, her impact at the state and national levels, the depth of her knowledge, and her passion. I will remember all of those things, but I will remember best the “funning” and will treasure the memory of Ginny not only as a colleague, but as a friend. Only 10 days ago, Ginny emailed me that I owe her a martini. I’m so very sad that she can’t join me, but I will raise my glass and toast her for all the lives she touched, including mine.
Mary Armstrong, Dept. of Child and Family Studies, University of South Florida
- What a privilege it has been for me to assemble this letter! I feel so gifted because Ginny has been a friend and colleague for over 25 years. For me, first of all, Ginny was Jim’s Mom. Her courage and persistence in “never giving up” in efforts to get Jim the appropriate services and supports was such a witness for what advocacy is. Second, she was a friend. We shared so many things: a common background growing up in upstate New York, an absolute love of politics wherever we lived. And she was a colleague in many venues: partners in Albany working to improve the system of care, partners on the national level on several research projects. Ginny was also both savvy and smart and presented many unanswered research questions for us to address. I am so grateful that I spoke with her very recently and am so saddened by her loss.
Her memory will be cherished by us all.
Children's Mental Health Network readers are invited to share their remembrances of Ginny in the comment box below.