Kathleen Kirk Bishop


Dr. Kathleen Kirk Bishop
Dr. Kathleen Kirk Bishop

Family Voices is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Kathleen Kirk Bishop.  Kathy was a long-time advocate for families, particularly those most vulnerable, and a visionary leader at the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB).

Kathy dedicated her life to social justice. She truly believed that everyone had the capacity and should be given the chance to speak for themselves, and she lived out that promise by creating government legislative language, organizational structures and academic protocols that respected those principles and saw them through into implementation. Her thinking and vision changed many lives.

Kathy first came to work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) in the Genetics Program, and helped there to create strong relationships between the program and the families it served.  Kathy sought out the opportunity to work with Dr. Merle McPherson in what was then the “Crippled Children’s Program.” She was a core part of the federal staff who helped to create a new organizational unit focused on habilitative services using a new definition of “children with special health care needs”and then to rewrite legislative language, OBRA 1989, which moved this federal program from its orientation as serving “crippled children” to a focus on the development of a comprehensive system of services for children with special needs. In the process, Kathy played a lead role in conceptualizing and defining   “family centered care” – the term now so widely accepted by many disciplines, agencies, programs and providers – and helped to infuse a concept which was at the time completely revolutionary - considering the child as part of a family.


Kathy and her daughters
Kathy and her daughters

Kathy went on to help families create the nonprofit organization, Family Voices,  a family-led national network organization formed to speak out on behalf of  children with special needs.  Kathy served on the Family Voices Board of Directors for many years.  Her unselfish dedication to our cause, the rich skills which she shared so generously and her wise and insightful counsel  helped to guide us to our current place – as the premiere national cross disability family-led organization concerned with children’s health.

From MCHB  Kathy joined the faculty of the University of Vermont, helping to shape their School of Social Work Programs.  From 1999 until 2009, Kathy served as dean of the School of Social Work and Family Studies at Wheelock College, and played a key role in the development of its Master of  Social Work  program as well as several new programs, such as the Sport-Based Youth Development and Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy programs. Kathy also received appointments on several other university faculties and at schools of medicine and hospitals.  Honoring Kathy at her retirement in 2010, Wheelock Magazine summarized “Her contributions as a social work educator, scholar, researcher, consultant, agency adviser, advocate, coalition builder, program developer, and direct service provider were described by more than one celebrant at the event as quite simply ‘amazing.’


Kathy and her grandchildren
Kathy with her grandchildren

Family leaders and the families they serve owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kathy’s vision, dedication, and incredible caring.  Family professional partnerships are evident at every level of our health and social service systems and Kathy’s vision helped us get there.

Kathy’s obituary may be read at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?pid=177712411.

Family Voices Board members, staff, network members, and professional partners remember Kathy:

  • "When I first met Kathy, at a federal meeting, I was a parent with a young child with special needs, working for a federally funded project for which she was the project officer. I thanked her for being so interested in families as to include us in the meeting.  Kathy let me know that as long as she was in the federal government, families would always be at the table – that our perspectives and insights were critical to ensuring quality programs, and that our partnership with professionals was a cornerstone to effective services.  I couldn’t believe my ears!!!" . . . Nora Wells
  • "We have lost a cherished friend and an outstanding  professional leader.  Kathy came to work with me shortly after I entered the federal MCH program and played a tremendous role in my life as she quietly and skillfully taught us all the role of families in healthcare.  This led to the language of " Family Centered Care" being introduced  in to the legislation which followed. After leaving HHS she moved on to a very successful  professional life which  carried a "family centered " message wherever she went. That history needs to be told for the MCHB Archives. She was always a very dear friend to me and to my family." . . . Merle McPherson
  • "Kathy was a Federal pioneer in family-centered care and family professional partnerships. Many of us built upon her work to further the awareness of the need for each and the implementation of them, in partnership with families. And yes, she did have a contagious laugh. I will, indeed, miss her and wish to extend my condolences to her family, to you, her good friend and other good friends who were early pioneers in this area, and the network of families and professionals alike who owe her a debt of gratitude." . . . Diana Denboba
  • "She was one of my first mentors.  She had a way about her that lifted your spirit and helped you believe in yourself. There is hole in my heart today." . . . Martha-Jean Madison
  • "Kathy's life was a life that has been full of pioneer work as well as love, dedication, and humor--the loss will be great.   She was a great mentor to me as well as a friend and I had hoped to work with her in carrying out our similar visions.    I will miss her gentle but firm nature and her never say never spirit.  I will carry her smile, voice, and laugh with me during the fights ahead and the successes as well." . . . Kelly J. Gross
  • "Kathy was so important to Family Voices!" . . . Richard J. Robison
  • "What a great mentor and friend she was to many!" . . . Donene Feist
  • "Thinking of Kathy reminded me that she would often engage me in conversation about my culture.  She laughed quite a bit when I shared with her that our tribe was matriarchal and women owned everything (land, the home, cattle, farmland, etc.)  and if your marriage was not working out, you packed up your husband and returned him to his mother and or family and you were then considered divorced. (As we are sovereign nations).  I could hear her laughing in the distance when I remembered this time with her." . . . Trish Thomas
  • "Kathy leaves a remarkable legacy. May we all feel inspiration as we look back on her contributions to MCH and the growth and development of Family Voices!" . . . Marcia O'Malley
  • "Kathy will be missed by so, so, many.  The sheer volume, scope, and quality of her work is astounding!  She was truly a "superwoman" of our time....a devoted, outspoken, unwavering, and compassionate voice for families, and the family-professional partnership.  What a difference she made! Her influence has permeated every aspect of the CSHCN program.   I very well remember the launch of the Family Voices program with Kathy, Merle, you and the other "pioneers" at the helm.  What an exciting time it was!!  The concept...the reality...of family-professional partnership was then, and remains today, the most compelling aspect of quality health care in our country.Although her earthly journey has come to an end, we are all so fortunate and proud to have known her, worked with her, and been a part of her never-ending legacy." . . . Bonnie Strickland
  • "Kathy was one of the GREAT Pioneers for families and individuals." . . . Heather Hebdon

If you would like to share your memories of Kathy here, please email pcurran@familyvoices.org.

Donations in memory of Kathy may be made at:  http://www.familyvoices.org/donate.

Family Voices will honor Kathy on March 30, 2016 at the National Family Leadership Meeting in Washington, DC.