By Daniel J. Vance
"He's taught me more than I've taught him," said Bob about his older and only brother Maurice. "Those people who've known him have been profoundly affected. Maurice is a loving, caring, happy, wonderful human being. I wish the world had more people like him."
And if Maurice could, he'd likely say much the same of Bob. The two love each other.
"Bob" is 53-year-old Dr. Robert Pasternack, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Dept. of Education. He is the highest-ranking federal official specific to special education and rehabilitative services, sworn in August 2001.
"Maurice" is brother Maurice Pasternack, 61. He was born with Down syndrome, and now also has Alzheimer's disease and fractured hips. Bob has been Maurice's legal guardian the last 20 years, since their parents passed away. Now having to live near his work in Washington D.C., Bob misses Maurice and as much as possible visits his New Mexico group home.
"When Maurice was born," remembered Bob, of what his mother had said, "he had a duodenal obstruction. The doctor said the best thing would be not to operate, and to let him starve to death because he wasn't going to amount to anything."
But mother Lillian had other ideas. Bob said, "Someone had placed a newspaper ad saying they had a retarded child and didn't know what to do. If you are in the same situation, the ad said, come to my home." So Lillian and eleven other women founded in a Brooklyn home a support group, the Association for the Help of Retarded Children.
Like all Down syndrome children then, Maurice immediately went to a state institution. Eventually, Syracuse professor Burton Blatt exposed that particular institution, Willowbrook, in his 1974 book "Christmas in Purgatory." "[The book] showed the nation that people with disabilities shouldn't be abused, mistreated, warehoused, or put naked in the middle of a room to be hosed down," said Bob. "This is how people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities were treated."
Bob wishes his mother were alive to witness the positive change and services now available for disabled students and their families. There has been a "significant investment" in parent training and information centers. "If Maurice had been born today, he would have been able to do so much more because of what we are blessed with in our country," he said.