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Special Gift

Peter Thornburgh with his parents, Dick and Ginny Thornburgh
Former governor and his wife support people with disabilities

The day seems so ordinary. A wife and mother of three young children has just dropped off her husband at a downtown Pittsburgh law firm, where he works in private practice. With their children in tow, she begins driving the few miles back to the family’s Mt. Washington home.

Hours later, the husband and father receives a phone call. There has been a terrible traffic accident, the caller tells him. His wife was killed. His three sons are hurt, and the youngest, 4-month-old Peter, has suffered what appears to be a serious brain injury. Later, the doctors’ worst fears are confirmed. Peter’s injuries result in permanent impairment of his mental development.

For the next three years, Dick Thornburgh raises his boys alone.

No one could have then guessed how such a horrific accident in Pittsburgh that day would eventually benefit perhaps thousands of people with disabilities nationwide.

At the time of the accident, Thornburgh (Law ’57) was 28 years old. He was on the verge of a public service career that would eventually take him from the role of federal prosecutor in Western Pennsylvania to the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg; to Washington, D.C., where he would be U.S. attorney general under two presidents; and to New York City where he would be under-secretary general of the United Nations. But still greater accomplishments awaited following marriage to his second wife, who had the same name as his first wife—Ginny.

Ever since becoming a “second mother” to Thornburgh’s three sons (she dislikes the word “stepmother”) and witnessing firsthand the obstacles Peter faced almost daily, Ginny has devoted her life to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities everywhere.

“She has done a remarkable job,” Thornburgh says of his wife. She serves as director of the Religion and Disability Program at the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization on Disability (NOD), where she helps religious leaders understand how to welcome children and adults with disabilities into their congregations. She teaches clergy to recognize the special gifts people with all types of disabilities bring to the faith community. She also coauthored and edited That All May Worship and From Barriers to Bridges, both publications of NOD, which her husband helped found.

Thornburgh’s status as a high-ranking public official has been instrumental to the cause as well. It’s no coincidence that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by Congress during his years as attorney general. The Thornburghs’ commitment to the rights of people with disabilities didn’t end with Thornburgh’s public life. In March, the couple was honored with the Henry B. Betts Award, which is given by the American Association of People with Disabilities. The award, which comes with a $50,000 grant, recognizes people who have made extraordinary contributions to the quality of life of people with disabilities.

Here’s the twist. The Thornburghs donated the prize money to Pitt to help fund a lectureship in disability law.

The University—through the School of Law and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and in conjunction with the Dick Thornburgh Archival Collection in Pitt’s University Library System—matched the gift, creating The Thornburgh Family Lecture Series in Disability Law and Policy. High-profile aspects of disability law policy will be addressed through the lectureship, which will seek to attract speakers of national prominence. Last year, the University became the first in the nation to offer a master’s of studies in disability law.

The Thornburghs’ goal is a simple one: giving the 54 million people with disabilities in America the opportunity to live as normal a life as possible. Son Peter is an example. He’s 43 today and a full-time volunteer in a food bank in central Pennsylvania. “He’s still very limited,” his father says, “but he’s acquired a lot more independence than anybody would have thought possible at the time. He’s made us all very proud.”

—Dan Eldridge


Winsand Lectureship honors women in education

It’s a crisp Friday night in the late 1980s, and a team of educators gathers around a table at Edgewood Country Club, roughly 10 miles from the University. The occasion is a weekly dinner. Everyone who shows up can be sure of three things: The conversation will be lively, the evening memorable, and, most importantly, Jean Winsand will have a thing or two to say about women’s rights.

Winsand (EDU ’71G, ’70G) was an associate professor in the Department of Instruction and Learning and Administrative and Policy Studies in Pitt’s School of Education and associate executive secretary of the Tri-State Area School Study Council, which is part of the School of Education.

But her calling was women’s rights.

“She was concerned that many of the administrators in the schools were men,” Orville Winsand says of his wife, who died last year. The family, including sons Doug, Barry, and Wayne, gave $25,000 to establish the Jean E. Winsand Tri-State Lectureship Series in Education. The series was established as a tribute to Jean Winsand’s commitment to the professional growth of women in education. The lectureship will annually feature women speakers who have shown vision and leadership.

“She was enthusiastic about whatever she did,” says Winsand, sitting in his airy kitchen, surrounded by hundreds of books and carefully tended flowers that were also a part of his late wife’s days. “She had a passion for so many things.”

One of those things was her work with the study council, which took her to countless public and private school systems in the tri-state area. Although reshaping reading and writing programs was her specialty, she was also part of a tri-state team on general school improvement programs. Many of the changes the team instituted at schools across the region are still in place today.

“It would make Jean very proud to see that the University has honored her in that way,” Winsand says about the seminar that now bears his wife’s name. “At the conferences,” he adds, “so many women come up and say, ‘She was a model for me.’”


Building Blocks

Marilyn Hollinshead, (FAS ’80G, CAS ’76), says she made a $50,000 gift to endow a scholarship in her name. The aid will help economically disadvantaged students in the Department of English in the Faculty and College of Arts and Sciences.

Years of teaching taught him an important lesson: Educators don’t always have funds to buy those extra tools for the classroom. So, Emerson Hess (LAW ’39) created the Emerson G. Hess Faculty Fund in the School of Law with a $15,000 gift. The endowment provides funds for faculty to purchase learning materials such as treatises, books, or tapes.

Campaign Watch

Institutional Advancement is working hard to reach the goal of $1 billion, and Pitt’s alumni and friends are responding.

Total so far: $608.3 million!

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