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R.I.P. Nancy Lee Head, my favorite activist

Two days after I received a card from her in response to mine, Nancy Lee Head passed away at her home in Arlington, Va. It was startling to find out the news. She had been doing fine!

Nancy Lee was the most inspirational activist I’ve ever met.
Nancy Lee Head

I find myself wanting to paraphrase some words in the novel Let the Great World Spin: She made people become what they didn’t think they could become. She twisted something in their hearts and gave them new places to go.

Nancy Lee was my favorite political activist. She dedicated her life to social justice (from the 1963 March on Washington to the anti-war protests of the late 1960s) and raising awareness of mental health issues. Wife of the late Charles J. Turck, who served as president of Macalester College from 1939-58, she often spoke of him with greatest of affection. Their love must have been something amazingly special.

From her obituary:
Nancy Lee was a founding member and for several years served as President of the DC Mental Health Consumers League, the first consumer-led advocacy organization in the District. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in her youth, she consistently encouraged consumers to speak out about their experiences. She served for thirteen years as program coordinator for NAMI-DC, the local office of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Among her many board and advisory council positions, Nancy Lee was a member of the Dixon Receiver”s Advisory Board and the D.C. Department of Mental Health”s Partnership Council. She was deeply involved in reforms surrounding treatment and conditions at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Nancy Lee worked for thirty-one years for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in various capacities and did significant work in peace fellowship, interfaith worship and with the homeless. In 2001, Nancy Lee was awarded the prestigious John Park Lee Award by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in recognition of her advocacy on behalf of those with mental illness. Survived by her brother, James W. Head, III, of Providence, RI, and missed by her faith community at Church of the Pilgrims, 2201 P Street NW, Washington, D.C. Memorial contributions in honor of Nancy Lee Head may be made to The Green Door, an organization that prepares persons with mental illnesses to work and live independently, and which helped coordinate her care during much of the past decade.

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