Remembering MaryLee Allen

We at CSSP were saddened and continue to mourn the passing of MaryLee Allen, our friend and inspirational colleague who shaped supports and opportunities for the nation’s children and families for more than 40 years at the Children’s Defense Fund. MaryLee was quite literally irreplaceable in the contributions she made to the nation’s child welfare system. There is no improvement to federal child welfare policy in the past decades that did not have her fingerprints—and usually her leadership—as she wrote brilliantly about the need for change, organized coalitions, worked patiently until the political moment was right, and rallied many of us again and again to keep working for safety, permanency, and well-being for millions of children, youth, and families.

MaryLee’s absence is an emotional and intellectual loss. She was a friend to many of us in the field as well as an ally, colleague, and leader. Her life and her legacy of tireless work, commitment to a cause, and boundless achievement will be a continuing inspiration. For CSSP, MaryLee spoke at our staff retreats, always responded to calls for advice and support, and most recently paid tribute to our board chair, Carol Wilson Spigner, at our 40th Anniversary celebration, celebrating one of many personal and professional alliances with people here that persisted for decades. 

There is an old hymn whose lyrics are, “May the work I’ve done speak for me.” That could have been written in direct tribute to our friend and colleague MaryLee Allen. We extend our deepest sympathy to her family and her countless devoted friends and allies. And we will do everything in our power and with the resources of CSSP to continue our part of the mission to which she committed her professional life—to create a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children grow up in safe, stable, and loving homes, and thrive.