mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Eulogy for a Fine Boss

11.30.05. Maria called yesterday to say that Jim Cotter had died. He was my boss for the first 15 years I worked at Hillside -- a man who made me think I had the best job in the world because he loved everything I did. Last night I wrote this letter and sent it to the newspaper. He was living in Maryland so I'll write a more personal letter to his wife when I get their address.


Today I learned Jim Cotter died. What a great man and role model for leadership.

James W. Cotter was the CEO of Hillside Children's Center from 1969 – 1994. When he assumed leadership of a small residential treatment center he knew that children in the child welfare system deserved more than a single solution for their troubled behaviors and complicated lives. He was diligent in researching new service models and knew how to take a small experimental program from somewhere and implement it on a community-wide scale.

In 1979, after an organizational growth spurt, he decided that size and variety would mean nothing without good quality. That’s when he hired me -- Hillside's first Program Evaluator. It surprised everyone in Rochester and across the state that a not-for-profit agency would devote scare resources to look at its own performance.

Hillside continued to grow and my position evolved into a whole department dedicated to quality improvement. Prior to Jim’s commitment, social service and mental health organizations were wishy-washy about field evaluation. Too complicated, people said. We’re all doing our best, people said, so if things don’t work out – not our fault.

But Jim’s bold move gave an important message to the community – yes, we’re accountable for following through on our promises to your children.

Jim was an innovator – even an iconoclast – in the way he approached services for troubled kids. But he was also the best boss a young woman could have. He knew that the work of quality improvement could not be about egos – Hillside's responsibility to families was too great to play games. He taught me that good stewardship meant having respect for one another but always facing the facts.  He was a dear.

Published by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle 1.9.06