Maximum Accessible Housing of Ohio mourns the passing of Kathy Cotman, longtime Board member and disability advocate. Kathy was instrumental in MAHO’s founding and its continued success over the years. Our Cotman Vistas community is named after Kathy and her family, in honor of their values and commitment to independent living. You can read more about why we named the building after Kathy and her family here.
Below is the Eulogy given by MAHO Executive Director Steve Hansler at Kathy’s memorial service on August 6, 2014.
A Lady from Euclid. That is how Kathy Cotman was described to me shortly before I met her over 30 years ago. I was applying to become Executive Director of Maximum Independent Living, now known as Maximum Accessible Housing of Ohio and I was told that the organization was started by some Ladies from Euclid who were interested in accessible housing. Little did I know then that Kathy would become a positive presence in my life for all of these years.
Some of you knew Kathy for a lot more than 30 years and some of you for a lot less; but for everyone who knew Kathy, she became a positive presence in their lives and one that will live on in all of us. Referring to Kathy simply as a Lady from Euclid is in some ways perfect, as Kathy was a humble person who merely lived her life the way she thought she should, but in other ways it sells short an amazing woman. There were multiple aspects to her life and most of us only knew some of them.
Kathy’s family was always first and foremost in her life and the Cotmans are an incredible family. While I knew some of the family history, after sitting with Linda and Rick earlier this week and hearing them talk about their big sister, I found out much more and I can only share a little bit of what I learned.
Growing up in that house on South Lakeshore Blvd., barriers were never considered. Frank and Isabel, Kathy’s father and mother, made sure of that. The whole family went sailing all the time and was very involved with the Northeast Yacht Club. At one point, Kathy was the club’s historian. Every summer, there were family driving trips, usually to historical and educational sites. Kathy’s favorites were always those involving natural history, like the Native American burial mounds in southern Ohio. Kathy also attended summer camp while growing up and made lifelong friendships there.
Kathy and her sister, Linda, were the first students with disabilities to attend the Euclid Public Schools. Kathy graduated from Euclid High School in 1966. Kathy was always the scientist and liked to talk about what she did in school; she especially enjoyed talking at the family dinner table in detail about what she dissected that day. After high school, she became one of the first students with a disability to live on campus while attending Kent State. She graduated with a degree in biology in 1970.
After graduation, Kathy soon became one of the first certified cyto-technologists. She got her first job in the medical field assisting pathologists at Mount Sinai and then moved on to The Cancer Center. Kathy later worked for more than 20 years as a bio-statistician at the Cleveland Clinic and retired ten years ago.
While working, Kathy developed friendships with co-workers and became very social. As one of her friends told me, Kathy was something of a social butterfly. She enjoyed attending family and community events and parties. One thing that Kathy really enjoyed was get-togethers over meals where she and small groups of old friends could talk about anything and everything. Traveling was a big part of her life and she traveled to Hawaii with her family, attended professional conferences, and most recently enjoyed making trips to Amish country.
In 1983, the lady from Euclid became a Euclid homeowner. In 1999, she bought her house on Sycamore. She was very proud of her home and kept it beautiful. Kathy also loved flowers and gardens and she enjoyed visiting garden centers and picking out plants. Her plants thrived and some of the MAHO properties have hostas that were started in Kathy’s garden.
After moving into her first house, Kathy joined SS Robert & William Catholic Parish and became an active member. She was involved spiritually, socially, and with advocacy. She was also instrumental in getting an elevator installed. I know that her church life was very important to her. In June, 1987, Ana arrived and became her trusted reliable aide. Her presence for all of these years made it possible for Kathy to do all of those things I am talking about.
As you can see, the Lady from Euclid had a full life with family, friends, church, a career, and a home, but that is far from the whole story. The part of Kathy’s life that I knew best, and that is her legacy, is her advocacy. As I mentioned, what she learned from her parents was the belief that barriers were never considered. That simply meant that barriers were not a reason to not do something. Instead, either eliminate them or find a way around them. By the 1970’s there was a term for that type of thinking for people with disabilities. That term was Independent Living and working to make it possible for people with disabilities to live independently became the core of her efforts. She began to become involved in activism, including protests to have curb cuts installed in Euclid. In 1980, Kathy and others started Services for Independent Living, which is still based in, where else, but Euclid. Kathy served on the SIL Board for many years including being Board President for a time.
Kathy and others also knew that the lack of affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities was a major barrier to independent living. In 1981, they formed Maximum Independent Living to build accessible housing. When I joined MIL in 1984, these Ladies from Euclid had submitted a successful application to HUD for almost $2 million in funds and found a building in University Circle to renovate into what became Circle Vistas, the first accessible, affordable apartment community in Northeast Ohio.
I came to MIL knowing a little bit about housing and nothing about disability and independent living. But, I had Kathy on my Board and she exemplified independent living for me, and for everyone she met, by living her life, one in which barriers were not considered. She taught us that the “dis” in disability does not matter. Even now, at MAHO, we rarely talk about our tenant’s disabilities. Instead, we talk about what we can do to eliminate barriers to their ability to live independently.
Kathy always had a vision of what should happen and would focus her actions on the incremental steps that would achieve that vision. Her influence on the MAHO Board and staff was such that MAHO approaches its mission in that same manner.
She had a strong belief that by pointing out to people that something wasn’t right and what could be done to make it right, that people would respond. She was quietly persuasive. Her approach was that of a Lady from Euclid asking a perfectly reasonable question about why something was not accessible to people with disabilities. This approach worked surprisingly well and I learned pretty quickly that when we were going to be at a meeting where we needed something approved, bringing Kathy to the meeting was the best approach.
Kathy has been the heart and soul of MAHO since it started. We will miss her terribly. As a Board member, she would do whatever needed to be done. She was always positive and focused on the future. Her support of me both personally and professionally was unwavering. I remember Kathy coming to my wedding 25 years ago. I remember my oldest daughter, now 21, using Kathy’s wheelchair to help steady herself when she had just learned to walk. I remember having Committee meetings at Kathy’s house. I remember almost exactly a year ago when we celebrated the grand opening of Cotman Vistas and I am so glad that we were able to recognize her and her family by naming this wonderful building after them.
I believe that what Kathy was striving for was a world in which everyone, regardless of ability or disability, would have the opportunity to live their life as she did, without considering barriers. May God bless us as we carry on the legacy of Kathy Cotman, a Lady from Euclid, and so much more.