Disibilities advocate Lori Bears held Iowa City accountable

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You might not know the name Lori Bears. She wasn’t a politician or a captain of industry. She wasn’t a celebrity. She never clamored for attention for herself. But when she passed away this week at age 50, Iowa City lost a citizen whose contributions easily match those prominent locals whose names top council agendas, public buildings or fancy letterheads.

Among many of Lori’s contributions, she served on the Arc of Johnson County’s board of directors, the Johnson County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Iowa Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Commission. She was a dedicated Democrat — first, last and always at Johnson County central committee meetings and events. In a single year (1998, to be exact), Lori’s unflagging advocacy earned her an Iowa City Human Rights Commission honor and Arc of Johnson County’s Bill Sackter Citizenship Award.

But it wasn’t her resume that made Lori stand out, it was her generosity. Her sense of humor. Her refusal to give up.

Lori knew full well she sometimes had to fight harder than most in order to be taken seriously. Like the time she stepped forward to serve on Iowa City’s Housing and Community Development Commission and then-mayor Naomi Novick wanted to pass, saying the work “would be very difficult” for Lori, who had an intellectual disability. A lot of people were outraged by that, but Lori took it in stride, remembers her longtime friend David Leshtz.

That doesn’t mean she walked away — Lori filed a complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission. She wanted council members to know they’d messed up in thinking her disability was a liability.

“I want them to be better educated,” she told reporters. “I want them to have a better attitude.” She ended up serving on that commission, and serving it well.

Lori had a nose for sniffing out ignorance and a knack for exposing prejudices.

“She was ready for action and she wanted to do something about it,” as Leshtz remembers.

She was quiet, kind and funny, and she had a spine of iron. She held this town accountable. She might never have been famous, but she’ll certainly be missed.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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