Vera Haile was a force for compassion, inclusion and justice that shaped organizations in San Francisco for over 55 years. She was an inspiration, role model, friend and colleague to a most diverse following.
Many of her friends and admirers will come together to celebrate Vera and her work on Thursday, July 31 from 5:30 to 7:30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral Conference Center, 1111 Gough Lower Level. Now that this noble leader is gone, we are called to come together and continue her work.
I met Vera Haile when she was the Director of North of Market Senior Services (now Curry Senior Services) and I had started organizing Planning for Elders in the Central City (now Senior and Disability Action). At Planning for Elders, she became a board member and led the IHSS Task Force for more than two decades. While those organizations have changed and evolved over time, she imbued them with a set of values that continue to guide their work to this day. Her perseverance, her willingness to speak truth to power, her compassion for the most isolated and alone among us are legend.
In 2009, Gay Kaplan interviewed Vera about her life as a part of StoryCorps and we hear stories of her early days that help us understand her courage and her willingness to keep asking “why” things can’t change. It begins with Vera, the 9th grader in Appalachia who was inspired by discussions in her civic class to write a letter to the editor of the local paper. In the letter, she explained why she thought integration was the right thing for the country – and that letter generated threatening calls from the Klu Klux Klan to her and her family. When she and her family did not back down and nothing bad happened, she knew she had done the right thing.
Her college studies in philosophy helped her think about ideas – the importance of taking a moral stand, of being guided by a sense of fairness, and of taking the long view in the fight for human rights and justice. She was a part of the civil rights movement, working to integrate lunch counters, bowling alleys, and other public places. She continued her education at places like the Highlander Center, a Tennessee training center that educated union organizers and nurtured civil rights activitists like Rosa Parks. Her journey included work with the American Friends Services Committee, serving both youth, and elders with mental illness and dementia.
She traveled to countries including India before coming back to settle in San Francisco. She worked for the Department of Social Services as a Social Worker. Not surprisingly, her social work degree from U.C. Berkeley included an emphasis on community organizing. She left her job with the City to became “second in command” at Self-Help for the Elderly and then moved on to be the Executive Director of North of Market Senior Services. In “retirement”, she did even more as the President of the Aging and Adult Services Commission, a long time and active member of the Aging and Adult Services Advisory Council, the Mayor’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council, a dedicated and respected member of the Immigrants’ Rights Commission and a host of other community and civic activities.
We were fortunate that Vera agreed to help us start the Community Living Campaign – one more step in broadening the base for social change around senior, disability and caregiver issues in San Francisco. She reminded us of what was important at every annual board retreat and was chair of the Program Committee and an active board member right up to the end.
Of all the things that Vera did, I think I was most grateful for her willingness to tell her story – about the challenges she and other older adults face trying to make ends meet in this increasingly expensive city. Just like Vera the young girl who wrote to the editor way back when, she knew the importance of using the press to raise awareness and to provide a “call to action”, no matter what the personal cost. You can read her article, that appeared in the San Francisco Chroncle, and learn more about Vera at a wonderful website that is being created by her daughters. Go to www.verahaile.com.
Please add your own comments reflections about Vera on this blog or on that website so that they can be shared with others. The CLC Board of Directors is continuing to reflect on how to best continue Vera’s work going forward and will be sharing a decision soon.
We hope to see many of you next Thursday evening as we remember and celebrate Vera Haile.
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