Terence J. Moakley (“Terry” to all who knew him), United Spinal and Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA) president, employee and board member, passed away on Sept. 5, 2014. He was 69 years old.
Terry graduated from St. John’s with a bachelors in English at the height of the Vietnam War. He knew the Army would draft him, so he chose to join the Marines. Terry broke his neck while in the service and was hospitalized for over two years. His time at the Bronx VA Hospital was shared with the legendary Jim Peters (who passed away 12 years ago and after whom the Bronx VA Hospital was renamed), Bobby Muller (who founded Vietnam Veterans of America and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-landmine work) and Ron Kovic (who wrote “Born on the 4th of July”). Around this time, Terry joined EPVA and people with disabilities everywhere have benefited from this affiliation.
After becoming quadriplegic, Terry went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in comparative literature from Hofstra University. After a short stint as instructor at SUNY Farmingdale, Terry joined the staff of EPVA.
Terry realized his disabled veteran status would not improve his chances of getting up an un-ramped curb, boarding an inaccessible bus or entering an inaccessible building. His good nature and warm personality brought disabled Vietnam-era veterans and NYC disability activists together to fight the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Terry, along with Jim Peters and Denise Figueroa, were plaintiffs in EPVA’s landmark litigation, brought in 1979, that resulted in bus and key subway station accessibility, as well as the creation of the Access-A-Ride program. Seventeen years ago, along with Marvin Wasserman and others, Terry founded the Taxis For All Campaign, which, this year, gained access to 50 percent of NYC green and yellow cabs. Terry founded the Association for Transportation Instruction to facilitate ridership and educate transportation providers. He also founded Mobility Through Access in the early ’80s, a coalition of disabled organizations and individuals seeking access to mass transit.
Perhaps Terry’s greatest gift was his ability to communicate in writing and in person. His presence changed the tenor of meetings with elected officials. He was charming, affable, smart, polite and direct. During his career with EPVA, Terry’s advocacy and literary abilities were put to good use when he managed and edited all of our publications.
Terry made himself an expert in barrier-free design. He served on the New York State Building Code Council, drafting the accessibility provisions of the code and Local Law 58, New York City’s barrier-free design law.
I met Terry in 1977 when I was a new Legal Services lawyer, along with my friend Paul Hearne. I left Legal Services and was working on disability issues in Governor Carey’s office in the World Trade Center for only a few weeks when Terry witnessed my boss treat me badly because I took the side of people with disabilities and not the State of New York. In the 39th floor men’s room, an hour later, Terry conducted a preliminary job interview, and the next day EPVA’s Executive Director Jim Peters called and offered me a job. I have been with the organization for 35 years. And I have had the privilege and honor of working with this great man all that time.
We moved from Manhattan to Rockland County to raise our children because he did. We have celebrated personal and professional accomplishments together and have been present at the most significant events in each other’s lives. To say that I think of Terry as family does not distinguish me from so many others whose lives Terry has affected.
EPVA/United Spinal (and I) preach the gospel according to Terry Moakley. There are dozens of ex-EPVA employees at every level of government and in business and social service organizations who also preach Terry’s gospel. Terry retired a few years ago and has been writing a memoir. Only a few weeks ago he learned that he had a terminal illness. His memoir is incomplete, as is his work.
It is up to us to finish it.
SVP and General Counsel
United Spinal Association