In Praise of Bill Combes

When you live with a disability, in my case a brain injury, you encounter those whose commitment to your rights is rooted in self-serving lip service and then you encounter those whose integrity, compassion and commitment to people with disabilities is so real and genuine they glow. In the case of Bill Combes, I suspect this good and decent man can read by his own light.

Bill Combes worked out of the New York State Commission on Quality of Care (CQC) for something in the neighborhood of 30 years and as of Wednesday this week, has entered into well-deserved retirement. If ever there was one deserving of accolades from the White House to the State house to the house on Main Street, it is Bill Combes.  The CQC is the Protection and Advocacy agency contracted with the federal government for brain-injured New Yorkers like me. The only flaw in the CQC is, like all such agencies, they never have the number of staff they want, and, frankly, deserve.

Disability rights advocates like me always knew they would get a serious attentive audience when talking with Bill. We also knew that Bill and the CQC would do all it could to fight for the rights of brain-injured New Yorkers. Unlike the state’s Brain Injury Association and Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council and, for that matter, the Department of Health, Bill Combes and the CQC always offered more than just lip service.

Those of us with disabilities have lost a wonderful ally now that Bill has retired. But, wherever he is, I hope he knows that all the lives he touched are better off because of him. Unlike too many others, he never experienced or treated anyone with any disability as being less than. The completeness of each person’s humanity and worth was never – and I mean never – lost on him.

I am blessed to know him and have had the privilege of working with him. Now it is his family’s turn to have the all of him, and this includes his first grandchild, a granddaughter; she’s in for quite a treat.