Communities Actively Living Independent and Free

Disability Memorial

A Tribute to Anatoli Ilyashov, CALIF Board Secretary & Labor Organizer & Labor Relations Professor


At the height of the heat wave two weeks ago, Anatoli came to the office early for the Board meeting.  He was looking very tired and was sporting a t-shirt.  Gone from his head was the Russian hat he used to wear as he usually came, dressed to the hilt.  Anatoli has been on my board of directors since 2005 after meeting him on an Access ride.  We were both going to a meeting on a disability rights issue.  We were quick to make the acquaintance and I learned that he was once a professor of Labor Studies in an Ivy League University back East.  He had a son and MS set in.  Anatoli had a quiet wisdom about him which immediately impressed me and I invited him to come to CALIF to check us out and see if he wanted to be part of our Board of Directors. 

I was delighted when one day, he actually came and visited us at the Center.  We talked about a lot of things and in a few months, he agreed to be part of our Board.  As a member of our Board, Anatoli was a reflective listener and carefully weighed things needing attention and support.  He was focused on bringing ahead the meeting agenda and nonsensical in his approach to things that did not need dragging on with useless banter.  He led the Board to be on task, asking the pointed questions. 

This summer, he and I worked together for his trip up North for his son’s graduation!  He was immensely proud of his only child graduating from UC Berkeley.  We made arrangements with our contacts in the disability movement to coordinate his transportation, his attendant and other things he wanted to do during the trip.  But shortly after he got back, although energized, Anatoli lost the ability to sign his signature on our paperwork.  He has accepted that with grace, with even more vigorous support for CALIF.

But the day for the Board meeting, he worried me because he was losing his voice and looking very weak.  He could not even drive his motorized wheelchair anymore and my assistant propelled the chair by powering the control box as he walked alongside Anatoli.  The chair was jerking but Anatoli rode through it patiently, without complaint.  He was the earliest to arrive among the Board.  We offered him water but all he wanted was to rest a bit.  At the board meeting, Anatoli was quiet and nodding when consulted.  His eyes were alert, assuring us that he was following the conversation.  We had very critical things to decide on that day and his participation was precious.  When it was time for him to meet his ride downstairs, he promptly left or he would have been stranded at 7 pm, like he was a few times before.  But we were careful to avoid that. 

After he was gone, I keenly felt his absence—he was like the gentle wind that came and went, leaving us even just a tad cooler.  I sent a prayer of thanks that he decided to come even in the oppressive heat.  He could have called in on the conference phone and that would have been fine.  But Anatoli made an effort to show up—a real trooper, present for battle.  Maybe too, he needed to get out of his apartment and get a feel for the outdoors for a change.  Either way, in the current status of the relentless issues facing our community, Anatoli’s presence was a comfort to me.  He and I don’t get to spend a lot of time just catching up like we used to do—we are deluged by the work, the daily grind—the omnipresent stressors of our health, budgets, personnel, community meetings, fund development, visitors, committee work, etc., etc. 

I called him finally yesterday to thank him for coming to the meeting, to tell him how much we love and appreciate him.  A woman came on the phone to relay the messages to him—he could not speak loud enough for me to hear anymore.  But she understood his responses and spoke them back to me.  I asked if we could visit with him this week but to my delight I was told, “this week is too hectic—so much going on around here but in two weeks is better!”  I was happy to hear that things are in fact, hectic for Anatoli!  Hectic means life remains busy—like always.  MS or no MS but still vital!  Even as conditions like MS, come and go with remission, life quietly moves on, like the waters of a silent river that continues to flow and support life.

August 29, 2012
Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director

A Tribute to Louis A. Preston, Sr., CALIF Board President & Disability Rights Advocate
January 11, 2010 - We come here to give tribute to our dear friend, mentor, father and leader Louis Preston, Sr. I first met Mr. Preston when he came to CALIF in 2003. CALIF was barely a year old then as an organization and a staff member invited him to be part of our Board of Directors. We really had him at “hello”, his handshake warm and firm, his smile immediately friendly and welcoming. He listened to our self introductions and our organizational presentation, carefully clarifying points and asking questions so that as we spoke, he could form in his mind, a picture of who he was talking to. He had us identified by voice, inflection, laughter and personality.

We immediately recognized in Louis the grace of leadership essential to get us through our difficult pioneering years. He was wise and patient, broad in his knowledge and understanding of people and their interactions. We were experiencing the growing pains of organizational and Board development as well as fund raising. He honed us on the concept of the one-minute elevator speech to sell a stranger on the merits of our work to inspire a donation to CALIF. When things on our annual plan were difficult to achieve, he would suggest the concept of the work in progress, positively encouraging efforts to complete the tasks.

At times on the Board, we would have very involved and animated deliberations but he guided people through the difficult dialogue toward constructive resolutions. He thought through things carefully and always saw both sides to an issue, calmed our nerves and brought positive perspective back. He understood the challenges of organizational management in the context of bureaucratic expectations of government contracts as well as the realities of a community struggling with prejudice, poverty and politics. He was consistently supportive and accompanied us to meetings, rallies, outreach events, providing support, guidance and eloquent testimony. From years of counseling, he understood human nature very well and was the master of his own. Even when he was aggravated by frustrating circumstances brought about by disability-related prejudice, other people’s ignorance or thoughtlessness, he would exhibit patience and understanding, a positive spin and a purposeful seeking of the right solutions. He would always come out on top with a problem resolved without anyone getting hurt or insulted.

As a father to us all, after his retirement, he often came to visit and spend time with us, getting to know the staff and consumers and enjoying the camaraderie. I often made sure to describe to him the scenery and the lay out of the land at a meeting place as well as the people present so he could have a better picture of where he was and who the people were. He appreciated my descriptions and then he would share with me how they compared with his mental pictures and impressions.

He told stories of his adventures when he was younger, stories of family, church and his affiliations with other organizations. He was keeping up with world events and expressed enthusiasm for things progressive and just. Even when he came down with the painful flare ups of his Sciatic nerve, he chaired Board meetings via telephone conference.

And when he came down with his lingering illness, he mastered the last of his life’s to do list. He suffered with dignity, quietly without complaining. He never whined about life in all the years we knew him—just an occasional expression of sadness that many of his family and friends were dying. He was tired of attending funerals he said but always ended those conversations with expressions of hope for the real life to come.

Good-bye dear Louis—it is your turn now to describe to us how beautiful the scenery is up there. We have been tremendously blessed to have known you and we thank your family—your beautiful wife and children for sharing you with us. You have loved and inspired us and we will miss you terribly but for the sake of a shared dream, we will carry on at CALIF.

Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director

A Tribute to Armentres Ramsey, First CALIF Board President & Disability Rights Advocate
“It’s not fun anymore!’ Armentres Ramsay complained to me pouting as we both scrambled to prepare a hefty report for our funders. Ment and I were used to enjoying the leisurely pace of the early days when we could easily blend work and play during our pre-CALIF days from an office the size of a shoebox!

Four months after she passed on (November 7th, 2005), I can only conclude that she must be having a lot of fun now and once again, beating me to it! It was in September 1994, when her husband Jimmy Ramsay suggested that I call Ment so that she could help me at home on a project I was hatching from my living room.

When Ment came to the door the week I called her, I was still in my house dress and finishing up with breakfast. She came all dolled up like she always did everyday and gave me a warm, big hug and heartfelt “Good morning!” The day went fast with Ment at my side—we would consult each other on the day’s work list and divvy up the chores. Because her support was solid and consistent, we moved quickly and I felt confident to take on the next steps. Pretty soon, Ment gave our project a name—IHSS Recipients And Providers Sharing (IRAPS).

Eventually we moved from my tiny living room apartment to our first office on 9th and Hill. With SEIU 434-B’s David Rolf , we campaigned long and hard for the creation of the Los Angeles Public Authority and got it approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors in 1996.

When the PASC took on much of the task for IRAPS, I suggested the founding of Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF). Ment was our first Founding Board President successfully serving two two-year terms. When I look back to the last eleven years with Ment, we accomplished a lot in a short time because:
1. Ment was an expert: When Ment and I met, she was already an expert on life—she knew and overcome oppression and was oriented toward hard work, discipline and solving problems. She did her share of cotton-picking and became an expert on handling prejudice and oppression. She successfully pursued her studies and graduated from USC with an English degree with the intention of being a teacher. When no one would give her a chance, because of her disability, she decided she would be an expert on disability issues and help others. She focused on being an expert as a housewife, on time with the bills, marketing, cleaning, doing errands, perfecting her recipes and home management techniques. Jimmy loved Ment’s cooking and so did we who were lucky to have been part of Ment’s family of friends and relatives. One of my favorite stories of Ment was last year when she was reluctantly yielding control of her kitchen to a personal assistant because she was becoming too ill to do her regular cooking.
“Ment”, I consoled her, “it’s all right to start retiring from cooking—“ I did a calculation of all the meals she must have cooked for Jimmy since the start, “a whopping estimate of 11,000 meals for a 36-year marriage!” “You can relax now”, I said. ‘Ok’ she agreed, adding, ‘No wonder I’m tired!’ And we both laughed.
2. Ment was grounded in Scripture: Ment intimately knew of God’s love and His word and brought this to work with courage. We always started our work together with the understanding that He would guide us with our projects from start to finish. Because we consulted each other in prayer, we were confident of God’s wisdom and providence. As a result, we saw miracle after miracle, before our eyes, our funding grew, our space grew from the tiny living room to where it is now at Spring and 6th. Ment would do anything for me and I for her—we suffered together but we would encourage each other. It was this atmosphere that gave fruit to our endeavors.
3. Ment was a woman of commitment: When I met her, she was already married to Jimmy for 25 years. She was a dutiful daughter to her stepmother, ministering to her faithfully as she dealt with the problems of aging and Ment was a committed church elder for years, serving her church by teaching Bible school to the kids during the summer. A woman like her, faithful in the discharge of her duties, had the discipline to see a project through to its completion. And she was that way with our work.
4. Ment, through suffering, was a woman of joy: A lifetime expert on disability, she was patient with her medical providers, her caregivers, the Access and bus drivers who gave her mobility. She was a positive thinker who knew how to ease stressful situations with humor. She would gently remind us both that we needed a break from work. And we would go and have fun. When Ment was arrested for the first time at an IHSS rally on Temple Street in LA, what was a stressful situation quickly turned out to be a comic episode with Ment finding something to giggle about as the cops were taking our fingerprints.

Thank you Ment for a life well and joyfully lived. You make us your sisters and brothers with disabilities very proud of you because you have given dignity and joy to the experience of disability.

Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director

In Memoriam to a Great Human Being, Advocate, Executive Director, Friend, Wife and Mother:  Mary Ann Jones

I will miss following those wheelchair tracks, Mary Ann's.  She was a great lady, with a lot of dignity, serenity and wisdom.  I met her in 1993 when I first worked at WCIL--she was in the Development  Department and I held her in awe  for taking on that difficult task of raising money for a cause, no matter how worthy.  I later understood, after getting to know her better, that she was one of the biggest draws for our cause. She was credible, authoritative and friendly.  I've heard the story of the Disability Movement said before but hearing her relate it was extra compelling.  

Mary Ann was a mentor and friend.  She would occasionally share attendants at the quarterly conferences.  She would call me to let me know of certain things that she wanted to make sure I was apprised of--she was strategic and made sure that we were united in our approach to an issue we were both working on locally.  She knew she had my solid support and vote and often, it would take only our exchanging glances to seal an agreement.

One afternoon after a CFILC meeting, we were both waiting for our rides, she and I had a chance to share and she relived that day of her accident.  It was Mary Ann, deeply human, simple and matter of fact.  She also shared her joys as a mother and her concerns and worries for her husband's health.  Constant through life's challenges was Mary Ann's fortitude, courage, common sense and joy.  Mary Ann's laughter would forever live in my memory.

Although it is hard to say good-bye, I  am saying  mine with  utmost resignation,  trusting that the  God who  knows every  human heart and  every  human struggle,  has  eagerly  awaited and  prepared  for  the  lovely  homecoming  of a  favorite daughter--Mary Ann Jones, splendid  human being!

Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director

The Gift that Jeannette Nishikawa was

          I last saw Jeannette at the PASC (Public Authority) meeting about three weeks ago. She was still very well then and before we finally said goodbye for the day, like a big sister, she gave me a few tips on how our center could further survive the budget crisis. I thanked her for her ideas, a couple of which we already had in place and truly appreciated her concern for us. She had recently gone through an appendectomy and was on her way to full recovery when they suddenly had to rush her back to the hospital.  That was where she passed away August 25th, in the middle of a meal.

          Although it is reportedly going to be a very private funeral service, I'm hoping that DRC is going to have a memorial to celebrate her beautiful life. Jeannette brought tranquility to our meetings, while the passionate among us were easily riled up over issues, she cut through the issues with a very practical, level head and business approach. When she spoke, you know that she's been there and done that and what she offered were already bottom line lessons to learn from.

          This was her particular gift and the secret too to how she lived each day successfully with the challenge of having to entrust every movement of life and limb to the intelligent exchange of goodwill and caring of and with people around her. From her, I experienced that living with a disability was and is about having a say in how to get from A to B efficiently, with clarity of intention and purpose and with everyone around you fully understanding how you want things done. This is the treasure that Jeannette Nishikawa leaves me from just watching her live her life.  

Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director

To Our Dear Bob Roberts by Lillibeth Navarro

          As one of many who attended two memorials last week, I'm quite devastated by Bob Robert's passing.  I spent a lot of time with Bob, time that I have always enjoyed and gained very much wisdom from.  He was such a spiritually superior, evolved soul!  At the last CFILC meeting, my family in Sacramento and I got to spend every evening with him--he was funny, extremely

intelligent and genuinely interested in every one of us and our stories. 

          We celebrated with him, the final approval of his very expensive medication, a feat only an advocate of his caliber would successfully have gotten through this stingy health care system.  He showed me on his computer some of his systems at the office and suggested a couple of things that might be

useful to us. He loved his staff and spoke about them very lovingly.  They were like family to him.  He hated losing any of his staff-- we saw that pain articulated loudly at the meetings.  He was into getting good people in and training them well to serve the center.  

          He loved his wife and daughter and was quite protective of her from what he was sharing.  He was Buddhist in his approach to life--very serene and quite reflective of life's biggest puzzles. He loved the outdoors, loved the earth and was also into preserving its beauty and resources.  He was an out-of-the-box thinker, with many innovations for ILCs already implemented at his center, whether or not, he was given credit or recognition for it.  His analysis of bills coming down the pike, particularly on IHSS and their big-picture impact on people with disabilities are sought out and deeply respected. He was a leader's leader, a mentor's mentor, an expert's expert, my dear big brother that I will forever miss.

          How do we proceed now that you're gone, Bob?  You left us plenty of footprints, maps, markers, guidelines--your life was one extremely shining example! God bless you Bob and boy does He love you to call you back so soon! 

          Bob, I will forever thank God for having known you!  Please pray that for those of us still left down here, that our work would be as useful to humanity as yours will always be!

Lillibeth Navarro
CALIF Founder and Executive Director