Standing at the podium before the crowd gathered at CASA's Light of Hope fundraiser Wednesday, Kevin Collins set the first Teresa Rabideau Award for Excellence award – a crystalline statuette named in honor of his late wife – down with a light thump that silenced the room full house at the Sheraton Hotel Crown Center's grand ballroom.
“She always brought out the best in people,” Collins said of his wife, a 16-year CASA volunteer who'd been holding her own in a battle against multiple sclerosis when she was diagnosed with an advanced cancer that very suddenly ended her life on New Year’s Day.
Teresa Rabideau’s story was introduced by Kate Proffitt, CASA’s director of legal services, who extolled the Independence woman's work, advocacy that reached 41 children total – all while battling complex physical illnesses.
Yet, “Nothing Teresa did was for recognition,” Collins said, adding he couldn't imagine his wife at the ceremony accepting the award.
“She would not be here,” he said eliciting scattered and unsure laughter.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Volunteers are trained and authorized to speak on behalf of children in court, such as in custody or abuse cases. Rabideau maintained a constant, incessant focus on the mission. Rachelle Kiesling, senior case supervisor, said the volunteer could be exhaustive in meetings with how well she wanted to know her clients.
“We would often times be in meetings with other professionals on cases. Teresa would always say I've got just a few more questions, ones that cut straight to the heart of the matter,” Kiesling said. “People knew her as very direct, but professional.”
Both recalled a particularly trying 11-year-old who had been assigned to Rabideau, “and [the child] said, 'I'm not talking,'” Kiesling said. “Teresa said, 'That's fine, I've got an hour.'”
The moment marked beginning of a seven-year relationship that ended with the child's release from CASA's services and a letter addressed to Teresa thanking her for never giving up.
“She was with her basically all of her life,” Kiesling said.
Toward the end, Rabideau found her capacities limited but never lessened her engagement with CASA.
Kiesling said she was often still working from the hospital beds they surely had to force her to stay on, the rests doctors probably had to insist she take. Rabideau would be calling, emailing, texting – anything to maintain her presence for the children who needed her.
So, she compartmentalized. She managed her passion and her pain separately often failing to disclose the doctors' appointments she had to make and the treatments that become increasingly necessary, never slowing down until she finally had to, three weeks before she passed away.
“It's what really kept her going, just doing things. Even the last day that I talked to her and – sorry, I get really emotional,” Kiesling said pausing. “She even said that going on leave for her CASA cases was the hardest decision she had to make.”
In spite of her sometimes chronic illness, “she did not allow that to define her life,” Collins said before he walked off the stage past tables seating attendees who spontaneously rose as did those behind them and those behind them until the approximately 1,000 who attended were together in standing ovation.