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National Funeral Home & National Memorial Park

7482 Lee Highway, Falls Church, VA

OBITUARY

Deborah Anne Cotter

November 7, 1967June 17, 2019

Deborah Anne Cotter, 51, died unexpectedly at home on June 17, 2019.

Deb was born on November 7, 1967 in New York City, the daughter of William R. Cotter and Linda Kester Cotter. She grew up in Bogota, Colombia; Oyster Bay, NY; and Waterville, ME. She graduated from the Oak Grove- Coburn School, receiving the Headmaster’s Award, and then from Wells College in Aurora, NY, where she played varsity soccer and majored in Russian Studies. After graduation, Deb worked in Washington, DC for her entire career, starting in the office of US Senator George J. Mitchell and then moving on after his retirement to the office of the Senate Historian, the National Archives and then to the nonprofit sector.

While serving in Senator Mitchell’s office, at the age of 24, Deb suffered a serious stroke. For the rest of her life, she worked hard to overcome mobility, dexterity, vision, and hearing effects of the stroke. Her determination, perseverance, positive attitude, and accomplishments earned her recognition including on the floor of the US Senate and in Walking magazine.

In the later years of her career, she returned to the Federal government, where she was a tireless advocate and diligent civil servant providing services and supporting independence for individuals with disabilities, like herself.

Post-stroke, Deb earned a Master’s in US History and took up stand-up comedy, among other pursuits. Deb was fearless and an inspiring role model for her family and friends.

Deb leaves behind her devoted parents, Bill & Linda Cotter of Concord, MA; her brother David and his partner, Jessica LaRue of San Diego, CA; her sister, Liz and husband Michael Schlax of Yarmouth, ME and nieces Elena and Jillian Schlax. She is also survived by the Cotter, Smith, and Zamore families; her beloved cat, Sweet Pea; close friends Michael McCrea and “the WILD women;” and countless other relatives, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances from school, work, and her condominium complex.

A memorial gathering will be held on July 13 1:30 PM in Concord, MA at The Newbury Court in the Great Room, 100 Newbury Court and on September 7 1:30 PM in Washington, DC at The Van Ness East in the Community Room, 2939 Van Ness St., NW.

In lieu of flowers, please consider giving to Wells College or your favorite organization serving individuals with disabilities.

Services

  • Memorial Service Saturday, July 13, 2019
  • Memorial Service Saturday, September 7, 2019

Memories

Deborah Anne Cotter

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Bob Carolla

June 25, 2019

Deb has been a close friend for 25 years, an inspiration for courage and determination. Despite her personal challenges, she never hesitated to take risks to move forward and upward in a career devoted to helping others and public policy. After working together in Senator Mitchell's office, we both ended up working in the disability community and relied on each other at many junctures. Our last lunch together was only a month or so ago at the point when she was beginning to work on the HelpLine in NAMI's national office--where I had served for 19 years. We heard about her passing three days afterwards during NAMI's national convention in Seattle; even after only the short time she was with us, it was like losing a member of the family; especially for me. Except we haven't really lost her; her example, inspiration, smile and sense of humor will stay with us; let's keep moving forward and upward with her in a greater common cause.

Selena Brown

June 25, 2019

Growing up into adulthood can be a challenge. But when you have a friend like Deb, it is so much fun! Each day we drove to and from school laughing those full belly laughs. Oh could we be silly. All the sports, movies, dances, proms, dates, trips, camps and dinners with the family's filled with laughter and giggles. Growing up feeling part of two families, and the bestest friend a girl could ask for, how lucky I am! Her laughter and smile forever to be charished in my heart. Oh how contagious. She made the most trying of a teens years filled with laughter, jokes and true friendship which made it all the best time of my life. RIP my dear friend, till we get the chance to laugh and dance again.

Quinn Anderson

June 24, 2019

Deb worked most recently as an Information and Resources Referral Specialist for the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine. In her time with us Deb brought a willing smile, calm presence and keen desire to help others touched by mental illness. We will miss her greatly. It was a privilege to know and work with her.

Lee Srebnik

June 22, 2019

Deb was my wife's first cousin. I only met her a couple of times, but remember being impressed by her. In 1998 we visited the Cotter family in Maine and were staying out at their Camp on Great Pond. As a non-swimmer since my near drowning when I was young, I was contemplating a venture into the lake using a life jacket. Deb joined us at the water's edge and I watched her swim out into the lake using just her one good arm in water that was clearly over her head, using a simple pool noodle for floatation. Her strength, determination and perseverance gave me courage that day and that memory has stayed with me throughout my life.

Sandy DeRobertis

June 22, 2019

I had the privilege of working with Deb while employed by the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). I was employed within RSA's Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Unit, and Deb was employed in the Independent Living (IL) Unit. Deb was a gifted, talented, passionate, and dedicated advocate for individuals with disabilities, and an oh so kind individual with a fabulous sense of humor. I recall quite a few heart to heart talks about personal and professional matters, and our shared frustrations with the often overwhelming disconnect between disability law and practice. I likewise recall the excitement with which Deb talked about her beloved college, Wells College. I likewise recall laughing out loud as Deb shared her experiences with improv acting. Deb made a difference in the lives of her colleagues and those we served. Deb will sincerely be missed! My thoughts and prayers are with Deb and her family, and our mutual IL and VR friends from both RSA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dawn Heinsohn

June 20, 2019

She was a terrific lady and will be missed greatly!

Bryon MacDonald

June 20, 2019

Deb and I worked together with Dan Davis, the National Council on Independent Living -NCIL- members and staff, and with so many fine advocates for the fullness of life for every living American with a disability. My heart is sad we lost such a fine life long advocate, here is some "Hill text" NCIL wrote that Deb helped edit and review:

"Urgency of Recommendations

Title II, Title XVI, and Title XIX Social Security and Medicaid disability benefits are the bedrock foundation for independent living and access to health coverage for 11.3 million disabled individuals age 18 to 64 participating in the SSI and SSDI programs (SSA 2009), Americans who could be homeless, in needless pain and suffering or dead before their time without them.

NCIL will fight with ever fiber in its membership to preserve and strengthen these programs. NCIL members believe it is now urgent for Congress to undertake a thorough, multi-Committee review of the Ticket Act and examine the supports and infrastructures it has only begun to put in place to improve employment outcomes of Social Security disability beneficiaries. The economic imperative is that employment outcomes for those receiving Social Security disability benefits contributes markedly to both their quality of life and to our national economic well being. "

We carry on Deb because there is no other option.

Denise Wardle

June 20, 2019

Deb was my friend and mentor, she made me laugh and taught me so much. Deb taught me to keep things in perspective. "Denise, you did not kill anyone, right?" She was full of LIFE..what a loss.
Deb, when you see my brother Bob..give him a hug..you two have a drink and a good laugh!
I did not see you often, but I feel your absence.

Ana Torres-Davis

June 20, 2019

I met Deb about a year and a half ago when she was hired to be the Executive Director of NCD, a job that she always told me that she was honored to have. She was so upbeat and wanted to do everything she could to promote inclusion and equal access for people with disabilities. She was funny and had an off-beat type of humor that was refreshing and unexpected. I know that the world just lost a good person. Deb, I pray all good things are surrounding you, and that they do so forever. Ana

Diane Pedulla

June 20, 2019

When I think of Deb the first thing that comes to mind is her big smile. I remember Deb from her days at the American Psychological Association where she was a tireless advocate for individuals dealing with disabilities. A friendly and helpful colleague, Deb tackled many challenges in her life with strength and grace.

My condolences to Deb's family and friends. She will be missed.

FROM THE FAMILY