It is with profound sorrow that the National Advisory Board (NAB) on Improving Health Care Services for Older Adults and People with Disabilities recognizes the passing of Richard “Dick” Thornburgh. A giant in his field, he served as the 41st governor of Pennsylvania from 1979 to 1987, and then as the U.S. Attorney General from 1988 to 1991. As the Attorney General under George H.W Bush, Governor Thornburgh was part of the executive Branch professionals that helped to usher in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and ensure that the landmark legislation would stand as a touchstone for civil rights.
Even after his time in office, Governor Thornburgh was a tireless advocate for justice and never stopped working for the ideals of inclusion and access as outlined in the ADA. He and his wife Ginny (Judson) worked with advocates to expand civil rights and inclusion for individuals with all types of disabilities. In Washington, DC, the Thornburghs were mainstays and regular mentors for the newest cadres of disability leaders and advocates looking to promote disability inclusion. The Thornburghs also continually worked with the faith-based community on their engagement with individuals with disabilities. Their work helped to bring many aspects of disability inclusion and positive disability culture to the faith based community – giving them the tools to promote inclusion and move away from the charity model. Governor Thornburgh was an advocate for justice whether as a guide for people learning the political and legal processes, bringing individuals to the table in discussions about the rights of Puerto Rican American Citizens, or with the notorious Sacha Baron Cohen on his eponymous Ali G Show.
In a 2009 address at the University of Pennsylvania, Governor Thornburgh offered words that capture his dedication to making our country a better place for everyone:
“Democracy is not a spectator sport, and politics is an honorable calling. All of us must exercise the opportunity to contribute to improving and sustaining higher levels of performance in public life. This involves much more than simply voting or even being part of a focus group or responding to poll questions. And it is just as important in contests for the local school board as in those for higher office.”
Our thoughts are with Ginny and the Thornburgh family as we continue to celebrate the life and legacy of Governor Thornburgh.