ON THE AGENDA | DECEMBER 26TH, 2013 | Public Agenda

Deborah Wadsworth, Former President of Public Agenda, Has Passed Away

As many of you know, Deborah was a woman of astonishing warmth, intelligence, integrity, and commitment.

We are saddened to report that Public Agenda’s Deborah Wadsworth, who led our organization between 1986 and 2003 and served on our board after her retirement, died on December 24, 2013.

As many of you know, Deborah was a woman of astonishing warmth, intelligence, integrity, and commitment. In fact, her contributions to our work began even before she joined Public Agenda. As a program officer at the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation in the 1990s, Deborah introduced Public Agenda founder Daniel Yankelovich to Kettering Foundation President David Mathews, setting in motion an institutional partnership that has endured for decades, bolstering our common mission of engaging citizens in addressing national and local challenges.

Mitchel Wallerstein, Chairman of the Public Agenda Board of Directors, wished to share the following regarding Deborah:

I am deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and fellow board member, Deborah Wadsworth. I know that Deborah made a long and valiant struggle against her illness, and I was actually much encouraged that her health had improved the last time that I saw her at a Public Agenda board meeting. I will miss greatly her wisdom, her intelligence and her humor. Deborah played a vital role in building and sustaining Public Agenda, and her passing is indeed a loss for the entire organization. I offer my sincere condolences to her family and friends and to all who had the privilege of knowing her.

Mitchel Wallerstein
Chair, Executive Committee of the Board of Directors

We will announce details about a New York City memorial service for Deborah when they are available. In the meantime, we invite those of you who knew and worked with Deborah over the years to share your remembrances and condolences in the comments below.



Submitted by: John Doble on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Deborah was a great American. I loved her very much, both because of how she treated my wife, Elizabeth, and me, and because of all she did for our country. Her compassion and intelligence were remarkable, her integrity and warmth were unparalled, and her wonderful sense of humor was infectious. Some of us used to say, among ourselves or course, that she fought for Public Agenda like a mother bear defending her cubs. Just being in her presence was a joy. I will miss her very much.

"Real Talk"

Submitted by: Anonymous Submission on Friday, January 10th, 2014

Years ago when I was national education writer at USA TODAY, I developed a great respect for Deborah Wadsworth. At that time, she was president of Public Agenda. What I liked most is that she engaged in “real talk” about the educational needs of our nation’s youth and boldly noted the superfluous gaps our nation’s leaders and institutions allow in meeting those needs. I am sorry to hear of her passing.

Tamara M. Cooke Henry, Ph.D.
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
University of Maryland, College Park

Deborah Wadsworth

Submitted by: Christopher Cross on Friday, January 10th, 2014

I became acquainted with Public Agenda through Deborah and her work and leadership on education issues. She was a terrific intellectual partner, providing wisdom and counsel in many, many ways. Her passing brings both fond memories and sorrow.


Loss of a leader

Submitted by: James Harvey on Friday, January 10th, 2014

Deeply sorry to hear about Deborah's untimely passing. I first met her in the late 1980's when Public Agenda developed "Crosstalk," describing the mismatch between elite views of schools and the views of typical citizens. A group of us hiked together into one of the canyons near Scottsdale, Arizona after her presentation.

Public policy in the United States has lost a wonderful leader and thoughtful observer of the American scene. Those of us who had a chance to get to know her personally have lost a great friend. She will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and with the Public Agenda staff she built so carefully.

Deborah Wadsworth

Submitted by: Monica Solomon on Monday, January 13th, 2014

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Deborah Wadsworth. While Director of Public of Affairs for Cincinnati Public Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 90's, Deborah led and trained a team of us to devise a strategy to listen and engage teachers, parents, and community leaders in envisioning a new future for public education in our city. Deborah and the Public Agenda team (including Will Friedman) taught me valuable lessons that I carry with me everyday in my continued work in public education. Her legacy is far-reaching and her contributions are lasting.

Debra's Passing

Submitted by: Diane U.Eisenberg. on Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I was so terribly saddened to learn of Debra's passing.
I've known and worked with her since that very first meeting at Public Agenda when she introduced David Mathews and Dan Yankelovich. Over the years we shared many meetings and projects all in furtherance of the public and civic life. She was wonderful to work with. I'll miss her!

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