Nancy Humphreys

Nancy Adrian Humphreys

1938 - 2019

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Obituary of Nancy Adrian Humphreys

Nancy was born in Ventura, Southern California on December 18th, 1938 and died on February 9th, 2019. She was born to Phillip E. Humphreys, and Caroline M. Humphreys, nee Peters. Her brothers, Stephen and Griffith are both also deceased. She is survived by her life partner and spouse of 34 years, Jo Nol, sister-in-law, Erica Nol, brothers-in-law, Chas Nol and Chris Risley, as well as her nieces Heather and Melissa, nephews Tim and Patrick, grandnieces, Violet, Poppy, Ophelia and cousins Laural, Ned, and Jimmy Humphreys.

She always considered herself a Californian, no matter where she roamed. She described her childhood in positive terms, having been the “apple of her father’s eye”. She grew up in a two parent family being the older sister of two brothers living in small solidly, middle-class, close-knit communities of that time. In whatever group she joined, her leadership abilities would shine, beginning with being elected the president of her Brownie troop on the same day she joined. She was an active sports enthusiast from the moment she could hold a ball—she had a not so secret regret that girls didn’t play football during her growing up period. At 14, when struck with polio, she was hospitalized and although paralyzed she vowed that she would walk again, which she did and resumed playing sports.

She graduated from Torrance High School and attended Occidental College graduating in 1960. Over the summers she worked for the city recreation department engaging kids in athletics. Thereafter she went to work for public social services. A year later she attended University of Southern California where she obtained her MSW. In 1970 she entered the Social Work doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles from where she graduated in 1975 with a doctorate of Social Welfare. One of her first jobs was as a social worker in Los Angeles county and upon graduation with her MSW she opened the first child welfare caseload to be created in California. She worked with people in the Watts area, providing in-home services for her clients. She continued to work in public welfare being promoted regularly to positions with increasing responsibility. While in California she was active in professional associations for social workers, representing the state at the national delegate assembly and was instrumental in bringing together several groups to form the first California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

She left California, in 1977, for a professorship at Rutgers University School of Social Work. During her tenure there she was elected at 38, the second woman and youngest person to the office of president of the National Association of Social Workers. While president, she worked tirelessly to promote the vision of the organization and the values of the profession, visiting all the state and city chapters of NASW. She also was chosen to be a member of Jimmy Carter’s National Commission on Women’s Issues, where she worked along side of people like Erma Bombeck, and Ann Richards.

From New Jersey, in 1982, she went to Michigan State University to assume the position of the Director of the School of Social Work. She also met her life partner, Jo Nol, a social worker. Together they moved to Connecticut in 1987, for Nancy to take the position of Dean of the University of Connecticut, School of Social Work where she stayed until she retired in 2014. That same year she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis which she not only accepted with grace, she worked to make the best of it, continuing to engage in those activities she loved.

Nancy’s legacy is a rich one, but a major contribution she made to the profession and the nation, was the development of a new branch of the profession called Political Social Work. Many before her had been active in the political arena, but it was Nancy whose life’s work was to pull together and define Political Social Work as a legitimate area of social work practice. To this end, she established the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work Practice, where hundreds of students have been trained. Because of her teaching, mentorship and leadership, not only is Political Social Work now recognized as an accepted area of practice, many social workers have become active in the political arena, working on campaigns, as staff members to elected officials or pursuing elected office themselves. The Institute continues to train social workers from across the country in how to run a political campaign so as to infuse social work values into the political process. She saw that social workers were uniquely suited to political work since policy decisions and legislation often tend to affect people social workers serve and the social work profession’s mandate is to help people change and work toward changing society.

Nancy was instrumental in establishing social work as a profession in the country of Armenia. Along with her counterpart in Armenia, Dr. Ludmilla Harutyutunyan, she helped to develop a training program for social work at the Yerevan University, where she was also awarded an honorary doctorate for her contributions to the university and the country. Nancy, who was a fearful flyer travelled twice to the country of Armenia, the first time when air travel there was very challenging.

Nancy lived a big life embracing it whole heartedly. She had a plan early in life to become both the president of NASW and to be a dean of a school of social work, both goals she achieved.  She had a big laugh and a big personality. When she spoke she mesmerized. Her gift for oration was widely known and admired. She was an ardent feminist and a strong advocate for those whose voices were silenced or dismissed. She loved and lived deeply, but also did not suffer fools gladly. Her wry sense of humor and broad smile was almost always present.  Nancy, as an outsider, often had the ability to see what others didn’t. She was an exceptional and incisive strategist and was generous with her ideas and perspectives. She had a deep and broad understanding of the political process, almost as if instinctual to her. Nancy also was a living archive of social work. She knew the history of the profession like no other. Along the way she received numerous awards, including an NASW Lifetime Achievement Award, NASW Pioneer award, Social Justice Champion award given by the Congressional Research for Social Work and Policy, Distinguished Social Worker award in Connecticut, Los Amigos de la Humanidad, Distinguised Member of Alumni and Friends Award given by the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and the Catherine Roraback Award given by NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut.

She was an avid sports fan, especially of the UCONN Women’s basketball team which she followed with great enthusiasm. She also loved football— acknowledging the problematic aspects of the game— she couldn’t help herself. She was a Patriots fan, and in baseball stayed up with the Red Sox. She read voraciously — biographies, politics, history, and anything Californian. She enjoyed food and wine and good conversation. She could tell a great story, especially about her early years in California. Until her memory started to fail, she stored the many details of the lives of people she met, often pulling them out in conversation to the delight of the person. She loved and engaged easily with children who also loved her in return. She was generous with her time and energy, often advocating or interceding on behalf of one person or another who needed help. Her loss will be sorely felt by people around the world and the world will be poorer for her having left it.

A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, 50 Bloomfield Ave., Hartford, CT on May 22 from 6 to 9 pm. 

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Memorial Service

6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Unitarian Universalist Meeting House
50 Bloomfield Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut, United States