National Champion of People with Mental Illnesses Dies
Former Senate Aide; EDA Deputy Division Director Dick Greer's Advocacy Increased Funding For Brain Research and Community Services
Jan 16 2003
Arlington, VA - Richard T. (Dick) Greer, 76, who in the 1980s helped spearhead the drive to refocus the federal government’s research efforts toward the biological basis for mental illnesses and to increase research funding and community services, died of acute leukemia on January 13, 2003 at his Arlington, Virginia home.
He served six years as the first legislative director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), which was founded in 1979. He later led advocacy for better services in Virginia, and served as president of NAMI-Virginia. In 2001, he and his wife, Betsy Samuelson Greer, received NAMI’s President’s Award at NAMI’s 22nd national convention for their exemplary service and partnership.
“Dick Greer was among the first to recognize that, with proper treatment, persons can and do recover from mental illness, and he tirelessly championed their rights to homes, jobs, and dignity,” said James Howe, former NAMI national president.
At NAMI, Greer worked on federal legislation to have states involve families and consumers in the planning and allocation of mental health resources and then was active on Virginia’s planning council. He also played a key role in the passage of a federal law to ensure protection of the rights of institutionalized persons, and later served on the state council charged with overseeing implementation of the law in Virginia.
His greatest pride came from the contributions he and his wife made in Arlington County towards improving mental health services at the community level. For nine years, they produced a monthly newsletter that is widely circulated throughout Virginia. Greer also served on the Arlington Community Services Board, and with his wife, led monthly support groups, taught family education courses, and initiated and led an Arlington advocacy group. In addition to national recognition, Greer was honored by NAMI-Virginia and the Northern Virginia Coalition for Mentally Disabled Citizens.
“Dick cared deeply about all people and their circumstances,” said Val Marsh, executive director of NAMI-Virginia in Richmond. “He was honorable in a way that few people are able to become in a lifetime. I always admired his ability to articulate complex thoughts in a quiet, respectful manner. His intellect had a kind of precision to it that could straighten one’s posture in awe.”
Prior to NAMI, Greer served in several positions as a federal employee, much of it in the U.S. Senate. He taught high school in Minnesota and came to Washington, D.C. in 1954 to work for Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN). He served seven years as deputy librarian of the Senate Library and seven years as a deputy division director in the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), working on programs to help the poor and unemployed. In the 1970s, he served under Senator Quentin Burdick (D-ND) as staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Regional and Community Economic Development, overseeing anti-recession initiatives that totaled more than $6 billion.
Greer’s career was guided by principles of social justice, but his commitment to helping people with mental illness flowed from his own family’s experience. Speaking about his work with NAMI, he once observed: “I was never more motivated in anything I had ever done in life, because of the pain and frustration of my son’s illness.”
He received an MA from Georgetown University in 1959. Earlier he graduated from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. He served in World War II as a tail gunner on a B-17 in the U.S. Army’s 8th Air Force.
His first marriage to Alyce Greer ended in divorce.
Besides Betsy, his wife of 21 years, Greer is survived by six children: Timothy, Virginia Beach, VA; Teresa, Los Angeles, CA; Gretchen Greer Eden, Mountain View, CA; Martha Averso, Harrisburg, PA; Sarah Snowdon, Fairfax VA; Richard, Jr., Arlington, VA; and seven grandchildren.