Chapter 4: Ginny's Role as Governor's Wife
23:50:46:26 - 23:53:25:18
Lisa: Ginny, you had mentioned that when your husband asked Jennifer Howse to become the secretary, Deputy Secretary, she took the job on the condition that Pennhurst be closed, and it is one of the accomplishments, I think, of your husband's administration, that Pennhurst was closed during his time. And while he was committed to closing Pennhurst, though, your husband also prosecuted the appeal to overturn the constitutional basis for institutional closure, and I think that that -- he and perhaps you experienced different kinds of feedback from the disability community.
I wondered if you could tell us about that feedback and whether or not it affected your work.
Ginny: Well sure it did. I'm very proud of Dick and I knew where his heart was, always, but sometimes as a manager he needed to pursue paths that would not have been aligned with my ARC heart. I guess that's a political way to say it, and it's so easy to second guess, and it's easy when you're not the governor, or you're not a leader, to say, well why don't you do this?
It was very -- moving people from Pennsylvania into safe, sound community residences in the greater Philadelphia area.
Most of the people at Pennhurst came from the Philadelphia area, but not everybody.
That was a very long, drawn out process, and it had -- it was tough, it was tough. We have a strong marriage. I speak up to Dick how I feel about things, but I'm always aware, particularly during that time, that he was in the hot seat, and that's the best answer I can give you.
I was proud when I would hear my Philadelphia friends complaining and bashing, because advocacy, that is the way progress occurs, through advocacy.
It doesn't occur by saying, oh well, let's Kumbaya, sit around and tell each other how much we care about each other. Unfortunately every movement -- civil rights movement, the women's movement, the disability community movement -- all movements require that kind of advocacy.
23:53:26:20 - 23:57:33:29
Lisa: Thank you. You had mentioned that in 1985, the state funding for community-based services exceeded that for institutional care, during your husband's administration, which was quite something. There were also some wonderful accomplishments additionally.
I'm going to read some of them. $243 million over five years, appropriated to further that trend toward community life, double the early intervention funding --
Ginny: Such a critical program. Very important.
Lisa: And again, Pennsylvania, certainly with your husband's leadership, exceeded the national standards by allocating those funds.
Ginny: I hope we more than exceeded the national standard -- that isn't a very praising thing.
I hope we're a leader in serving people as they deserve to be served in the community.
Lisa: His administration also supported lots of other programs that serve people in the community, including the centers for independent living, supported work initiatives, attendant care programs.
Ginny: And Dick signed on recently to the Olmstead Decision, which is a community integration Supreme Court decision, so I just wanted you to know he continues to be a leader, and to care deeply.
Lisa: I'm curious, at this time, with all of these changes and all of the support from your husband's administration, the two of you seem as though you've been real partners in your advocacy and efforts, and what was your role behind the scenes, or maybe not so behind the scenes?
Ginny: As I indicated earlier, it was very different being an advocate and pointing out failures, to being beside Dick and being charged with running the state. And I would get numerous letters, ten a week -- I don't know the number -- from parents or siblings or people concerned about situations, and I never responded to them, because that was not my role to, but I would send them with a cover letter to the Secretary of Public Welfare, who was responsible for that service.
So I learned that I could be an open door for complaints of situations, but it was not my job to speak about them.
And I would often accompany the Secretary of Public Welfare, Walter Cohen, a second four years of Dick's administration, and Helen O'Ben, a wonderful, wonderful woman, the first four years.
I would accompany them when they visited a center for long-term mental illness, or a center for people with intellectual disabilities, and thank people. That became my role, is to thank the people who were serving in jobs that are generally not appreciated by our community, by the general community. And so that was a different role, but my job was not to investigate and be a direct advocate.
Joe Colomboto, Lisa you may know that name from Temple, and he was -- at Temple at that time, was very much involved with Polk -- excuse me, with Pennhurst. Joe -- and this was during the time when things looked pretty bleak -- he said Ginny, if you look, no matter where you go, you'll find pockets of excellence, no matter how horrendous the situation is, there are people doing wonderful things -- people working overtime, people bringing their own personal lives into play with one resident or another resident. And he said, your job is to identify those pockets of excellence and thank those people. And I took that to heart.
23:57:37:10 - 23:58:50:07
Lisa: After Dick left office, did both of you feel that you had accomplished all you had hoped to accomplish, for Pennsylvanians with disabilities?
Ginny: Oh no, heavens no. You're never -- I mean, life isn't about being satisfied. No, of course not, and we still are members of the Harrisburg ARC, the Harrisburg County ARC and the Allegheny ARC, and receive their newsletters, and are proud of the Pennsylvania ARC.
We're involved in -- no, we're never done, our work is never done. You know when you work, you don't sit around and think about what you accomplished, you think about, all right, here's what needs to occur. What did occur in our lives is we became more involved in national problems then in Pennsylvania problems -- still having a heart for Pennsylvania because that's where all of our sons live, but being more involved in what the federal government was doing, and how could we be of assistance there.
More Interview Chapters
- Family Life
- Parenting a Child with a Disability
- YOU ARE HERE: Role as Governor's Wife
- National Advocacy
- Peter Thornburg as an Adult
About Ginny Thornburgh
Born: 1940, Hastings on Hudson, New York
Director of Interfaith Initiatives, American Association on People with Disabilities
ADA, Arc, Faith, Governor, Parents, Pennhurst, Polk Center