Breaking Ground 108 - Forward Together: Celebrating Wanda Willis' Legacy (Dec. 2021)

Introduction by Wanda Willis, Executive Director, TN Council on Developmental Disabilities

I appreciate this opportunity to express a career’s worth of gratitude here, in the Council’s amazing magazine, Breaking Ground. Transitioning into retirement and leaving this great agency in the hands of the best team I have ever worked with is pure joy.

I fell in love with this work as a 21-year-old special education teacher. That was before the first federal law requiring public education for students with disabilities was passed. Over the years, I held many different positions, most in Tennessee state government. Working with the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities has provided the greatest opportunity to work with others on a shared vision and make a difference. My truest mentors have been people with disabilities themselves – people from all walks of life, with all types of disabilities, at different stages of the lifespan, and with different goals. They show me every day that we continue to set the bar too low. Years ago, I threw the bar away.

Most people who know me are aware of my reverence for the Developmental Disabilities Act, written by families and passed by Congress in 1971. The Act created Councils to be a nucleus in state government where people with disabilities, family members, heads of government disability services, universities, and private agencies would come together. They work together on equal footing to prioritize needs and barriers outlined in a 5-year state plan. We always agree on our vision, and often disagree on how to get there!  (That’s how work for change goes.) However, if you read our annual reports, you will see that the Tennessee Council has accomplished so much.  Together with our partners, the Council generates excitement and passion in every project we undertake.

I am overjoyed to be leaving the agency in the capable hands of Lauren Pearcy, whose vision, ability to connect to people, humility, and understanding of the DD Act and role of councils will take the agency forward in new and exciting ways.

Thank you for the honor of working alongside you for so many years. The Council has been a blessing in my life beyond all hopes and dreams.

- Wanda Willis