July 01, 2010

Remembering Polly Arango, by Dr. Charles Homer

Ten years ago, when we at The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) were forming our first board of directors, we knew we needed someone who could bring the parent perspective to bear on the shape of our efforts to make health care better for children and for our organization. We learned of Polly Arango through her role on the advisory board for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Pursuing Perfection project. When Polly agreed to serve, we were thrilled--but in reality we had no idea about the skills, the gifts, the power and the heart that she was bringing with her.

Yes, Polly spoke up for families and did shape our programming. Through her leadership, we invited family members to give plenary addresses at our Forums and to serve as co-chairs for our Forum and our project faculty. She also forever influenced NICHQ’s work by connecting us with family advocates and organizations – including Family Voices, which she had helped found. Like the strong leader and advocate she was, she always encouraged and challenged us to do more, and we were always the better for it. And our health care system is as well.

But Polly did still more than that. She chaired our governance committee, re-writing bylaws. She led the recruitment and orientation of new board members. At times of organizational challenge, she spoke with clarity about the need for organizations that were focused only on children and their families.

A few months ago, while we were in her adopted state of New Mexico to conduct a learning session, Polly and her husband, John, opened their home to us for supper one evening. There we met Polly and John’s son, Nick, who inspired Polly’s tireless fight for the rights of children with disabilities and their families. In the course of a delicious meal (prepared by John), the conversation moved fluidly from how she had added a room to capture the morning light (allowing herself a rare self-indulgence) to how she was scheduled to meet with the governor the next day to challenge his budget priorities.

Polly was a unique woman. An advocate's advocate. A businesswoman and entrepreneur (social and traditional). A leader. A gifted and beautiful writer. A wife, mother and grandmother. An inspiration. A friend for so many.

We are all the poorer for having lost this remarkable person so soon. But we are all the richer for having known her, and in the future, we will rise to challenges by asking, when we are uncertain, what would Polly have done? What would she have said? And the answers should be our guideposts for the right course.

For more information on Polly and her work with Family Voices, visit http://www.familyvoices.org/