Home > Uncategorized > Mary McTernan, a key advocate for the developmentally disabled, dies at 79

Mary McTernan, a key advocate for the developmentally disabled, dies at 79

Mary McTernan, a longtime advocate in Massachusetts and in Washington for persons with developmental disabilities, died Saturday at the age of 79.

McTernan served as president of COFAR from 1992 to 1994, and was president of the VOR, COFAR’s national affiliate, from 2005 until 2009. She served on the VOR Board until 2014.

George Mavridis, also a past COFAR president and a current VOR Board member, described McTernan as “a friend and a mentor.”

mary mcternan2

Mary McTernan

McTernan was active in many efforts on behalf of the developmentally disabled, including an effort to protect the rights of residents of developmental centers in Massachusetts both before and after the late U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro officially disengaged from his oversight of the Ricci v. Okin class-action lawsuit in 1993. In that year, she was named to the Governor’s Commission on Mental Retardation.

She also wrote much of the language of a bill originally sponsored by former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank to give families and guardians of residents of developmental centers the right to opt out of federal class-action lawsuits seeking to close the residents’ longtime homes. Both the VOR and COFAR are continuing to push for passage of that legislation.

While at the VOR, McTernan enlisted attorney William Burke to prepare VOR’s Amicus Brief for the landmark 1999 Olmstead U.S. Supreme Court decision, which recognized the need for community-based care for those who can benefit from it, and institutional care for those who cannot.

In its decision, the Supreme Court quoted from the VOR brief that “each disabled person is entitled to treatment in the most integrated setting possible for that person—recognizing that, on a case-by-case basis, that setting may be in an institution.”

After Attorney Burke died, McTernan arranged for the creation of the Burke Legal Fund to help VOR members and local organizations with legal expenses.

McTernan’s efforts often went unheralded, and Mavridis said that was part of her operating strategy.  Echoing the words of Harry Truman, “she often said you can accomplish an awful lot if you do not want to get credit,” Mavridis said.

McTernan’s activism began after the birth of her daughter, Mary Elizabeth, who was intellectually disabled. McTernan became president of the Hogan Regional Center and later went on to head COFAR and then the VOR.

In the early 1990s, when McTernan was president of COFAR and Mavridis was vice present, McTernan asked Mavridis to go with her to Washington, D.C., where the VOR holds its annual meetings. There, she took Mavridis around to the offices of the Massachusetts congressional delegation as part of the VOR’s annual Washington Initiative, and “showed me the ropes,” Mavridis said.

The VOR has credited McTernan with “professionalizing and organizing” the Washington Initiative.

McTernan was a former teacher in the Boston public school system and a member of the League of Women Voters. She had a doctorate in public administration from Boston College, and in 1987 was awarded the Boston College Alumni award for outstanding service in education.

Since 2000, McTernan had lived in the Brooksby Village retirement community in Peabody where Mavridis also lives. Mavridis remained her friend and supporter until the end.

Mavridis has suggested that memorial donations may be sent to COFAR in care of Colleen Lutkevich at 3 Hodges Street, Mansfield, MA  02048. Donations can also be made online at www.cofar.org.

Mavridis also suggested that those wishing to make a memorial donation who knew McTernan for her work with VOR may send it to VOR at 836 South Arlington Heights Road #351, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007. Donations can also be made online at www.vor.net.

Condolence cards can be sent to McTernan’s sister, Irene Welch, at 6667 SE Yorktown Drive, Hobe Sound, FL  33455.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: