Lois & Grover

July 2011 marked the 11th anniversary of the Olmstead Decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the state of Georgia to declare, “people who are segregated in institutions are victims of disability discrimination.” The Olmstead case, which took five years, began as a way to help Lois Curtis, Elaine Wilson, and other individuals leave state institutions and find support and homes in the community. July 11, 2000, with the signing of the final settlement agreement the Olmstead Decision became a national mandate to liberate thousands of people with mental and physical disability labels from “unnecessary and unjust institutionalization.”

Grover Hogan has known Lois for several years, but it was not until 2009 that he accepted the invitation to become her citizen advocate and even more recently he has become Lois’ legal Representative Payee. Stepping into these roles has enabled Grover to observe Lois’s life from another perspective, and sometimes, says Grover, “The qualities of being a close friend get put on the back burner.”

Lois is a brilliant artist, and as an artist himself, Grover originally saw his role as someone who would help mentor Lois in the arts. He has even set aside an area in his home so that Lois can have a studio of her own, equipped with the necessary art supplies.

They both agreed that their connection is much more than a shared art interest. Grover says, “Knowing Lois has stretched me, expanded my horizons. She has lived by her wits for most of her life.  She is savvy, multi-dimensional and that is important. Our relationship is enriched because I have been pushed into other experiences. Relationships can be bumpy, but real relationships engender emotions. I have learned much about Lois by seeing her through her interactions with other people, some of whom work against her successfully living in the community. When I observe those interactions, they make me angry. Many believe that with the Olmstead Decision things have progressed. The fact is the Long Road Home is actually a lot longer than people suppose.”

For Lois, that journey has taken many turns but in July 2011 it brought her a pleasant surprise, a visit to the White House.  Lois and her small entourage were greeted by a marine guard in the West Wing, then ushered into the Oval Office where President Obama himself welcomed them with a handshake and a smile. Lois promptly handed Mr. Obama one of her paintings and flashed her famous smile for the official White House photo opportunities. The headline could have read “From Institutionalization to the White House.”  Surrounded by several close friends and allies, including her citizen advocate, Grover Hogan, Lois was radiant and every bit the celebrity as the president declared his support for the Olmstead Decision.