This week I learned that Joan Lawrence my former boss had died on Sunday. I was not surprised because when I saw her several weeks ago, for the last time, she didn’t look well. I spoke briefly about her at the farewell organized at Our Space on Friday. She practically invented peer support in Milwaukee and was responsible for spreading its use throughout the city. She was astute at politics and a shrewd fundraiser. She was an excellent grant writer and was proud of the organization’s sound fiscal health.
I have said elsewhere that Joan inspired many enemies and that it was not necessarily a bad thing. Joan and the agency were criticized over the years and there was a letter that sparked an investigation into the organization’s practices. I described my relationship with her as love-hate. It’s hard to feel completely comfortable when you’re threatened with being fired so often. It was also hard to earn a living wage. Evaluations were hard to come by. Joan ran things by the seat of her pants. She was the kind of person about whom people had strong opinions.
She did a lot for mental health in this county and possibly neglected her own health. She was a terrible smoker. I remember her struggling with the many issues presented by the long time building at 5th and Lincoln. A building with a leaky roof and a balky furnace. And I remember the cat she made the Our Space pet until it was adopted when Our Space moved to 15th and National.
There was a Led Zeppelin song about good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share. It was definitely that way with Joan. I got to where I am because of the training and experiences I received at Our Space and with her help. We never pretend that things are always all good or all bad but learn to understand the greys and in between.
It should also be noted that many peer specialists in Milwaukee are former Our Space employees. This resulted from the development of certified peer support. The organization is still a leader in the field of peer support.