William David Roth
Bill Roth passed away on March 17, 2015. Below are three remembrances:
- Remembrance by Senator Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor
- Remembrance by Howard Gillette '64
provided by Daniel Roth, his son
William David Roth or “Bill” to his friends and family, 72, of Albany, NY lived an extraordinary life and gracefully passed away in his home on the morning of March 17, 2015. Bill was the proud father of Daniel Noah Hand Roth, and the dedicated husband of Carol Chisholm Roth. Born on June 1, 1942 in New Haven, CT, Bill was the loving son of Dr. Stefanie Zeimer Roth and Dr. Oscar Roth. From his father, Bill learned a passion for meaningful work, dedication, and a remarkable ability to overcome life’s obstacles. From his mother, he learned hospitality, openness of mind, good humor, and warmth. His parents’ escape from the holocaust and dedication to helping others as physicians inspired in Bill a life-long pursuit of progressive social change.
With a mix of absurd humor, brilliant insight, creative genius, tenacity, and grit, Bill created a life of meaning and action, and helped build a better world than the one he was born into. Bill entered into public life through his opposition to the War in Vietnam. He was not afraid to demonstrate nor was he afraid of arrest. From anti-war protests in California to Paris to Vermont, Bill showed up at the front lines. After graduating with honors from Yale University, Bill built an impressive career as a politically engaged artist-intellectual. Bill pursued a passion for film-making and earned his PhD in 1970 from the University of California at Berkeley examining the political symbolism of the western movie genre. All the while, he was falling in love with the silent films of Buster Keaton and the gangster films of Coppola and Scorsese.
Over time, Bill’s politics and personal experience of neuromuscular disability merged. Bill became one of the founders of America’s disability-rights movement. He helped establish the framework for the Federal Disabilities Act and his work over the years addressed the architectural, transportation, and technological barriers to living with a disability in the United States. He joined the Carnegie Council on Children and co-authored several landmark studies including The Unexpected Minority: Handicapped Children in America and The Grand Illusion: Stigma, Role Expectations, and Communication. These books are widely acknowledged as providing the analytical basis for the disability-rights movement as well as fostering a new academic discipline, disability studies.
Bill’s work emphasized the disability movement’s core vision: the most socially incapacitating aspects of disability are not the inescapable consequence of biology but the result of countless social decisions that do not acknowledge the needs of people with different bodies and, indeed, discriminate against people whose bodies are different. Bill went on to pioneer the use of computer technology for people with disabilities and in 1984 founded the Center for Computing and Disability at the University at Albany, one of the first such centers in the nation.
As a long-time professor at the University at Albany School of Social Welfare, he taught courses in Social Policy and Disability Studies. More recently Bill’s work focused on exposing the neo-liberal dismantling of the U.S. welfare state and includes his books The Assault on Social Policy and his co-edited work Globalization, Social Justice, and the Helping Professions.
Never shy, Bill embodied the idea that the personal is political, and shared his deepest fears and triumphs through two autobiographical books, Letters to Daniel and Movement: A Memoir of Disability, Cancer, and the Holocaust. Through these books he opened up the struggles of his own body and his family for a broader discussion about the human condition and how we learn to love and care for each other, in a world full of hostility and greed. Indeed Bill was a courageous man, with a deep love of family, art, science, politics, and above all wacky jokes. Brilliant, imaginative, inventive, and utterly fearless, Bill inspired those of us who had the good fortune to know him. Funny, sincere, vulnerable, and heartfelt, Bill cherished his relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Bill is survived by his wife Carol Chisholm Roth (Albany, NY), his son Daniel Noah Hand Roth (Albany, NY), his sister Evelyn Fogarasi (Bethesda, MD), his niece Simone Roth Fogarasi (New Orleans, LA), his cousin Diane Roth Levy (Boyton Beach, FL), and his faithful caretaker Emelia Manso Rivera (Albany, NY).
Funeral services will be held at 3pm on Thursday March 19th, at the Shure Funeral Home, 543 George St. in New Haven, CT. Immediately following the services he will be laid to rest in the Keser Israel Memorial Park, 11 Farwell St., West Haven, CT. Friends and colleagues are welcome to join the family to observe shiva after 5:00pm at 606 Saddle Ridge Rd, Orange CT.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that donations be made to the William Roth Endowed School of Social Welfare Scholarship. This scholarship fund will advance the education and career aspirations of School of Social Welfare students with disabilities who demonstrate academic achievement. Checks may be payable to the University at Albany Foundation, 1400 Washington Ave., UAB 226, Albany, NY 12222 or www.albany.edu/give. Please note “William Roth Endowed School of Social Welfare Scholarship” in the comments section online or in the memo portion of the check.
Remembrance by Senator Bernie Sanders on the Senate floor
As reported in the Congressional Record, Bill Roth '64 was honored on the Senate floor by Senator Bernard "Bernie" Sanders (I-VT).
Remembering William David Roth
March 19, 2015
Mr. SANDERS: Mr. President, I wish to speak today in remembrance of William David Roth, who passed away on March 17, 2015.
William "Bill'' David Roth, 71, of Albany, NY, lived an extraordinary life and made major contributions to U.S. public policy. He was the son of Dr. Oscar Roth and Dr. Stefanie Zeimer Roth, refugees from Vienna who arrived in the United States just prior to the onset of World War II. Bill graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 1964 after majoring in mathematics, economics, and politics. This is all the more remarkable given the fact that a neuromuscular disorder from the age of 8 left him unable to write. He performed complex mathematical equations and logical formulae in his head. He was also a formidable presence at Yale and later at the University of California, Berkley, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970. He was that rare person who was both a man of thought and action and who inspired others by overcoming great odds and obstacles. From 1971 to 1972 he taught political science at the University of Vermont. He very well may have averted a Kent State tragedy in 1972 by permitting himself to be arrested at the Federal building in downtown Burlington during a nonviolent student protest against the Vietnam war. While Roth was offered immediate release because of his disability, he chose instead to remain until all the students had been released from the Burlington city jail. In this way he showed one of the virtues of civil disobedience, conducted with dignity and without violence, thus serving as an example and inspiration to others.
Subsequently, he went to work on the Carnegie Council on Children in Connecticut. He coauthored a landmark book that dealt searchingly with children with disabilities. His first major work was called The Unexpected Minority: Handicapped Children in America. He also coauthored The Grand Illusion: Stigma, Role-expectations, and Communication. These are widely acknowledged as providing the analytical basis for the disability-rights movement as well as fostering a new academic discipline, disability studies.
Bill's work emphasized the disability movement's core vision: the most socially incapacitating aspects of disability are not the inescapable consequence of biology but the result of countless social decisions that do not acknowledge the needs of people with different bodies and, indeed, discriminate against people whose bodies are different. Bill went on to pioneer the use of computer technology for people with disabilities and in 1984 founded the Center for Computing and Disability at SUNY, Albany, one of the first such centers in the Nation. Bill was widely acknowledged through his scholarly research, technological imagination, and progressive politics, as one of the founders of America's disability-rights movement. He helped establish the framework for the Federal Disabilities Act and his work over the years addressed the architectural, transportation, and technological barriers to living with a disability in the United States.
As a longtime professor at the University at SUNY School of Social Welfare he taught courses in social policy and disability studies. In recent years, Bill's research and writing focused on illuminating the damage done in the aggressive pursuit of dismantling of the U.S. welfare state. His book, The Assault on Social Policy, Columbia UP, is now in its second edition. It is recommended reading for all of my colleagues. Bill Roth fought not only with issues in disability but with his own neuromuscular disorder. He was a little like the phoenix — the bird that kept coming back. He was one of the most courageous people I have ever known. He was brilliant, imaginative, inventive, and utterly fearless. Bill inspired those of us who had the good fortune to know him. As Senator Joe Lieberman noted upon hearing of Bill Roth's death:
"Bill was an extraordinary person — gifted, strong, funny, inspiring. We were blessed to know him."
As lawmakers, we have benefited from his many contributions to public policy and discourse. We remember and honor him for these accomplishments. Bill Roth overcame serious illnesses as well as disabilities. He served as a courageous example to his family, friends, colleagues, and students.
Remembrance by Howard Gillette '64
March 24, 2015
I didn’t know Bill Roth well in college. Our interests and activities didn’t coincide. But Bill was hard to forget, not the least because he was the only member of our class that I knew of who had a visible disability, a muscular disorder that greatly affected control of his body. I was somewhat surprised, then, as I did the initial research for a book focused on our class, to read his submission to the 25th reunion book. There he reported that he had thrown himself into the student uprising at Berkeley the fall after graduation, getting arrested at the university’s administrative offices at Sproul Hall and describing himself as “a part of the nascent hippie culture.” “It was easy to look back at the ‘60s with condescension,” he later wrote. “I find that inappropriate. This country changed at a time when I changed.”
Always an intellectual powerhouse, Bill turned his intellect to completing a PhD in political science at Berkeley, ultimately joining the faculty at the University of Albany, where he became a pioneer in the use of computers to aid those with disabilities. His passion for social justice, honed at Berkeley in the 1960s, surfaced particularly in two unabashed book-length critiques of contemporary efforts to shred the social safety net. But it was his own memoir, Movement: A Memoir of Disability, Cancer, and the Holocaust (2008) that struck me as most compelling.
In that book Bill tells the story, after his admission to Yale from Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven, of his father — a Holocaust survivor — defying the head of the Yale Health Clinic who advised against Bill’s accepting the university’s offer because of his disability. What Bill didn’t apparently know when he wrote was that another young man with a serious disability had been turned down because the university said it was unable to accommodate the candidate’s need for a full-time caregiver. That story was part of Katharine Kinkead’s report on the admissions process responsible for our class that appeared in The New Yorker of September 3, 1960. According to Bill’s memoir, his father’s retort — “I have seen courageous soldiers fight against the Germans. I have never seen anyone as courageous as Bill” — was enough to override university objections. Disappointed to be further stigmatized, he thought, by being assigned to a single room as a freshman, Bill proved himself fully capable of navigating college life, ultimately joining Joe Lieberman, among others, as a suite-mate and becoming a prestigious Division IV Honors Major and ranking scholar.
As I entered the last stages of writing my book focused on our class, I contacted Bill by email. Recognizing from the end of his memoir that he had additional health problems following his courageous and initially successful battle with cancer, I didn’t know what to expect when I asked if he would review what I had written about him. To his reply — “too weak” — I asked if he could suggest ways I could strengthen the narrative. Much to my dismay, I learned by return email that it was his own weakness that prevented a critique.
Bill sent me a few additional emails of only a word or two over the past two years, of which the thrust was: how could I begin to tackle the legacy of the 1960s? It was my misfortune not to have been able to learn more from Bill directly, either in college or in years afterward. For from what I do know about him, his passion for social justice, and his ability — not disability — to tackle issues close to his heart made him every bit the extraordinary man his son Daniel so lovingly describes.