BY DR. PAUL DWORKIN
With great sadness, I share my reflections on the passing of our dear friend and beloved colleague, Joanna Bogin. As many of you know, Joanna was the first manager of the Help Me Grow (HMG) National Center, leading our HMG dissemination efforts even prior to our evolution to an organized structure. When we were fortunate to secure funding to begin to provide technical assistance to jurisdictions that desired to build HMG systems, I conscripted Joanna from her role at the Connecticut Children’s Trust Fund, the agency serving as the backbone organization for HMG in Connecticut. I knew Joanna well from my friendship with her and her beloved pediatrician husband, Fred, whom I had “recruited” from New Hampshire to Hartford. (In reality, Fred recruited us.) Little did I realize that Fred’s hiring would yield such bountiful rewards.
In her leadership of our fledgling efforts to offer technical assistance on HMG implementation, Joanna was critical to our success. Her impeccable interpersonal and relationship-building skills, her unparalleled capacity for empathy and sensitivity, and her keen ability to carefully listen in an open-minded and non-judgmental manner enabled Joanna to quickly garner the trust and respect of potential collaborators across the nation. Joanna’s ability to transform professional relationships to deep personal attachments was legendary, as evidenced by the long list of HMG affiliate leads who became life-long friends and confidants.
Joanna was, in so many respects, our spiritual leader – our national center version of a non-denominational mother superior, priestly confessor, and rabbinic sage. She cared for and took care of all of us.
When, some five years ago, Joanna decided to retire to spend more time with her rapidly growing family, travel with her similarly retired husband, lend volunteer support to children in the welfare system, and more actively pursue such personal interests as golf (both in joining Fred as his partner in league play and tolerating occasional rounds with interlopers such as myself), we celebrated Joanna’s accomplishments and shared our joy in anticipating her many years of future happiness and fulfillment. None of us were prepared for the cruel irony of her cancer diagnosis, which was so ironically foreshadowed by some nagging concerns she shared at our 2016 Annual HMG Forum.
Despite the devastating news and the all-too-obvious implications of a chilling diagnosis, Joanna, in true fashion, immediately turned her attention to what she could do to make the very best of her challenging situation. She embarked on a treatment regimen that somewhat miraculously allowed her years of well-being, full activity, and engagement. In fact, she continued to regularly participate in our annual Forums as our unofficial goodwill ambassador, greeting guests and renewing friendships with unencumbered enthusiasm seemingly devoid of self-concern. While always firmly rooted in reality, Joanna maintained an infectious, albeit cautious, optimism that engendered hope in all with whom she engaged.
Even the recent, dreaded resurgence of Joanna’s illness could not overcome her appreciation for the unanticipated duration and quality of life she experienced through her treatment and the many memories that will sustain her family and friends at this most challenging time. Throughout this period, as throughout her life, empathy and concern for others reigned supreme for Joanna. A poignant example, shared by Fred, was her expression of concern as her oncologist delivered the bad news regarding her prognosis and the futility of future treatment. How typical of Joanna, upon receiving this information, to respond, “This must be so hard for you.” Her concern for others is an inspiration for us all.
I recall my comments at the final HMG Annual Forum preceding Joanna’s retirement. I described her as the “heart” of Help Me Grow. Indeed, she always will be. May our work together be a lasting legacy to the remarkable person that she was. May she rest in peace.
Paul H. Dworkin, MD is executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and founding director of the Help Me Grow National Center. Dr. Dworkin is also a professor of pediatrics at UConn School of Medicine.
Colleagues, partners, and friends share kind words and remembrances of Joanna:
So many emotions to process and so many memories to recall. Your beautiful and eloquent tribute to her brought tears to my eyes. Your words brought her to life again and flooded my heart with so many wonderful moments I had the privilege to share with her. She was my coach and mentor as we launched our affiliate. She cheered me on when I became discouraged. She was our HMG guide since the road didn’t exist. And, through it all, she became a good friend. She never let me forget how special the welcome to Greenville was in December 2008 when I arranged (I really didn’t) for the HMG CT team to follow Santa Claus down Main Street. And, I could go on. I continue my work knowing that Joanna is still with me cheering me on and celebrating our accomplishments, no matter how small.
– Jane Witowski, HMG South Carolina
Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Joanna, she was such an incredible person and leader. She was missed when she left HMG, but I am so glad she had those precious years with her family. I am sorry for your loss of a dear friend and colleague. Thank you and Joanna for all the amazing work you did together to help children and families. I believe the fruit of this labor is incalculable.
– Barb Leavitt, Help Me Grow Utah
I joined the HMG Network in our county six years ago, and Joanna was one of the first people I interacted with at HMG National. I was new, and she was so warm and caring as she answered all of my eager questions and connected me to other affiliates for more support. She helped create the culture of the HMG Network that I have grown to appreciate so much – as a community that helps each other, shares what they’ve learned, learns from each other, and truly embodies the saying that “sharing is caring.” She also shared with me her experience working with tribal communities, and her support of the work I wanted to do to expand the reach of HMG in my urban Native community. I will forever appreciate how she welcomed me into the HMG community, how she made me feel seen and how she helped me connect to others in the network. I am so appreciative of the network, of the work that we do and the sharing and love I feel from across the country, and I know that she helped cultivate that culture. We were all so fortunate to have you as a lead in this journey.
– Angelina Montgomery, Help Me Grow Alameda County
I am so sorry to share the passing of Joanna Bogin. I remember so well when Lorrie Grevstad and I invited Joanna to Washington State to introduce our early childhood colleagues to Help Me Grow more than 10 years ago. Joanna was so much fun to work with, and a great “co-conspirator” as we tried to inspire interest in Help Me Grow in Washington State. May all who are involved with and benefiting from Help Me Grow in WA and across the country pause for a moment and give thanks for the life of a wonderful woman. My heart is with her family. Joanna, rest in peace. Virtual hugs to all!
– Jill Sells ❤
Thank you for your kind remembrance of Joanna. I was deeply moved by your reflections on her character and service, and I send my condolences to you and your Connecticut colleagues. When I joined HMG WA in 2012, Joanna breathed pragmatism and compassion into our efforts. Her contagious courage certainly inspired me to build great things for families. I will think of her with a smile on my face, and channel her tenacity as I struggle on the golf course.
– Stephanie Walchenbach
Thanks for sharing this news. This is heartbreaking. Joanna meant so much to us here in Mississippi. She was the reason we are an affiliate of the National Network. She was so kind and, just held my hand at times when I wanted to just give up. She was a phenomenal woman. We will certainly miss that infectious laugh of hers.
– Linda West, Help Me Grow Mississippi
I wanted to write and express my condolences. I can see her smiling, gentle face. I know how much she meant to the Help Me Grow family and to all of us working on behalf of children and families. Thinking about you and keeping her family in my prayers.
– Camille Smith
Please accept my heartfelt condolences at the passing of Joanna. Paul, no one could have better captured and paid homage to her than you did in your remarks to the affiliate network. I remember fondly first meeting her during a Northeast regional convening of affiliates in Hartford (2012/2013?), at which she expressed such a gracious welcome to the New York contingent. In subsequent years, as we became better acquainted, her wisdom and sage advice helped sustain the efforts of HMG Western New York through several fits and starts. Certainly, her legacy will live on through the network and beyond–and her impact not forgotten. With deep sympathy,
– Lynn Pullano
In her memory, I hope people read or re-read what Joanna wrote in the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in 2006. I did not know her personally but I do know that she made a widespread and positive difference in the lives of many children and families. From afar, I noticed and admired her good work. Respect.
– Kevin Marks, Clinical Researcher at Aarhus Universitet in Denmark
Thank you sharing this. Joanna was truly special and will be missed by many.
– Wanda Davis, Help Me Grow Contra Costa
Christina, our Interim Director, recalls fond memories of Joanna’s visit to Columbia and to ParentLink shortly after we became an affiliate. Our hearts here at ParentLink go out to you all at HMG National Center during this difficult time.
– April Ravert, Help Me Grow Missouri
I was very sad to hear of Joanna’s passing. She was so strong and positive that it was easy to deny that this could actually happen. I know how close your relationship with her has been for so many years and I am sure you are hurting (as we all are). Thank you very much for your typically eloquent tribute. I know that helped many of us as we grieve her loss, and celebrate how she lifted up our lives and those of her family and friends and so many touched by Help Me Grow.
– Desmond Kelly, HMG South Carolina