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The Loss of a Legend

Renee Whaley

There’s a whole community out there that you’re likely not aware of, unless you have a child with a disability.  This community is made up of other parents of children with special needs and also the professionals who provide services to children with disabilities and their families.  This community may not have an official name, but it has its own culture, its own traditions, its own laws; it even has its own language.  It’s a confusing language to learn, one liberally sprinkled with acronyms, legal terms, technical terms, and medical terminology.

If you’re not aware that this community exists, then you might not be aware that this community lost a legend.

Renee Whaley spent the last half of her life improving the lives of children with disabilities and their families.  She was an incomparable public speaker, teacher, and trainer, a formidable presence whether on a stage or at a meeting table.  She fought against injustice and intolerance, noncompliance and ignorance.  She stood up for each and every parent and each and every child she came into contact with, and made it her personal mission to ensure that all children with disabilities would receive the best educational experience possible.

A Rose Tree in a field of purple flowersAs the past director of Florida’s federally-funded Parent Training & Information Center, Renee Whaley’s job was to train and coordinate others so that they, too, could pass along advice and critical information to parents of children in Special Education, helping them to understand the laws and protections and become more involved and effective advocates for their children.  But Renee was out there, teaching and sharing and helping others, both before she had that job and then again after she retired.  There is a huge network of parents and professionals out there who, without a single doubt, credit Ms. Whaley directly for their children’s and their students’ successes.

Renee Whaley’s devotion to the community she served stemmed from her passion for her son.

David, who had autism, was the light of Renee’s life, and she was an incredible mother.  She was determined to share with David, everything good that life had to offer, and she did.  It was the worst kind of tragedy when David died so young and of course Renee was devastated but she was strengthened in her resolve to help others like him.

Renee was a parent, a wife, an advocate.  She was a trainer, a teacher, a speaker, an entertainer.  She was an artist and a creative genius.  She was a most generous and hospitable hostess.  She was a listener.  She was a talker.  She was a friend.

Renee Whaley passed away on November 9, 2009.  She was – and still is – a legend.  She will be greatly missed.