Catherine "Cathy" Tucker knew the importance of giving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The Plymouth woman, who was a champion for the disabled community in the Twin Cities for more than 30 years, died June 2. She was 59.
Tucker's family and colleagues praised her for the impact she had for people with disabilities. Because of her own health challenges, she was never afraid to challenge assumptions of what was possible for people with different abilities to achieve or stand up for what she believed was right.
"She gave her life to people with disabilities," said Jeremy Wendt, executive director of Episcopal Group Homes in Wayzata. "She had humanity and gentleness, and she made an impact on people just by being herself."
While Tucker didn't have family of her own, she was close to her sister, nieces and nephews, and forged "like family" relationships with many others.
Darrel Powell credits Tucker with helping him get back on the right track while he was growing up. Powell, now 30, said Tucker was instrumental in encouraging him to go back to school and get his GED and a college degree.
"She took me in and offered her home to me and a sense of family that I did not know before," said Powell. "Game nights, dinner at a table with conversation, and books to read. She made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted to and she was sure of it even when I had little belief in myself."
In 2004, Tucker began working at Homeward Bound Inc., a Plymouth nonprofit that supports people with disabilities. Her colleagues say Tucker was a fierce advocate for people with disabilities and taught others the importance of the "active support" model of caring for people with disabilities.
"She was a strong leader in the field and just a champion for people with disabilities," said Lori Merriam, director of development at Homeward Bound.
Active support is a person-centered approach to empowering people with disabilities to engage more in their daily lives. Tucker trained staff to let individuals with disabilities to do as much for themselves as possible. During her career, she was able to see her efforts realized, when people with disabilities took over daily tasks — such as making haircut appointments or choosing food off a restaurant menu — rather than having someone do it for them.
"When you're working with people with severe disabilities, it's easy to do too much for them," Merriam said. "Cathy trained staff to see that the long road is sometimes the best road."
In addition to her career at Homeward Bound, Tucker volunteered and was a past board member for ARRM, a South St. Paul-based association of disability providers and advocates.
She also spent many years working at Episcopal Group Homes in Wayzata and was recently named president of the board of directors. There, she also help shift the company's approach from disability-centered to person-centered services.
"This philosophy is mandated now, but Cathy was on the forefront of that," Wendt said.
Tucker is preceded in death by her parents, Robert and Donna Tucker; and aunt, Marilyn Hayes. She is survived by her sister, Nancy Fleetham; niece, Jennifer Fleetham; nephew, Tyler (Ciera) Fleetham; great-nephew, Isaiya; and great-nieces, Amiya and Sophiya. Services have been held.