Remembering Dana Reeve | Guest Blogger Donna Valente

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 15, 2017 # Christopher and Dana

Working at the Reeve Foundation for over twenty years, as the Director of the Quality of Life Grants program that was created by the late Dana Reeve, I am one of the fortunate few staff members who experienced knowing and working with Christopher and Dana Reeve. To know Dana was to love her, and I truly and deeply cherished her, and working so closely with her indelibly impacted my life. It is a great privilege to continue the work that Dana started, and I am certain that she would be gratified by the enormous impact of her vision to enhance the quality of life for individuals with paralysis and their families.

Christopher and Dana Reeve were not typical in any sense of the word. Their involvement in the former American Paralysis Association (APA), the precursor of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, was warm, dynamic and strong, and they took the time to get to know our small staff. Dana was an extraordinarily talented actor and singer, and when she performed at productions of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival at nearby Drew University, we were invited. Her comedic skills in Enter the Guardsman and her dramatic genius in The Crucible were unforgettable. And, we also experienced Dana singing the national anthem at Madison Square Garden at SuperSkate, a fundraising event with the NY Rangers.

In my early days at the American Paralysis Association, much of my work focused on writing grant proposals as well as drafting some of the special correspondence for Christopher Reeve in his role of Chairman of the Board of Directors. To my great honor, he felt that I captured his voice. It was at a Board Meeting that I got to know Dana and witnessed Chris and Dana interacting and experienced the strength of their relationship and the power of their leadership. Dana always greeted me with a huge smile and a warm hug. She was so down to earth, and immediately put you at ease.

Dana was a fierce advocate for the Quality of Life Grants Program that she created, and she fought for continued support of the program. Dana didn’t just come up with a nice idea and pass the work on to others to carry out, she was deeply engaged and involved in the grant making process. Before advancing to paperless grant submissions, twice a year we received hundreds of grant applications by mail. It took several days of meetings to examine them all and to select the best applications that would then be reviewed by the Quality of Life Grants Committee of the Board of Directors. Dana would sit with me and two other staffers in a small windowless room for hours at a time, pouring over each request for support. She cared deeply about every single person that could be impacted by the Reeve Foundation, and often said that Quality of Life grants meant freedom, because they help to provide opportunities for families challenged by paralysis to enjoy life to the fullest. Dana advocated for a national federally-supported Paralysis Resource Center because she knew how difficult it was to find information after a loved one sustained a paralyzing injury. When the Paralysis Resource Center officially opened in 2002, Dana recorded the greetings on the telephone system.

Dana didn’t try to sugarcoat the difficulties of living with paralysis. She didn’t complain or cry “why me?” even when Christopher passed away, she lost her mom, and was given the devastating lung cancer diagnosis. Dana, like Chris, understood that she could harness the power of her celebrity to make a real difference. I am certain that Dana would be proud of the many strides made over the years by the Paralysis Resource Center. She would be thrilled with the expansion and evolution of the Quality of Life Grants Program, particularly the nearly $21 million in grants that have been awarded, and the launch of three new grants initiatives—yet, she would fully expect that we continue to make it better. Dana has been gone for eleven years, but her presence is with me always, and her legacy continues to shine as beacon in the world for all of us.