Annual Jefferson Award honoree turns tragedy into activismBy Kim Goodin : February 25th, 2010
Once the shock passed and the tears dried, Patricia Rizzi decided something good would come from unspeakable tragedy.
After enduring the death of her daughter in 2000, the registered nurse decided to focus on doing her best to ensure other mothers would not experience the same type of pain.
For her efforts against domestic violence, Rizzi was named UT’s second annual Jefferson Awards Champion honoree during a Feb. 15 luncheon in Libbey Hall. The event recognized 12 Jefferson Award winners selected in 2009.
Rizzi, who has worked on Health Science Campus for more than 25 years, was UT’s third honoree in 2009.
“We salute all of our Jefferson Award Champions for their dedication to serving others,” said Lawrence J. Burns, vice president for external affairs and interim vice president for equity and diversity, who serves as UT’s Jefferson Awards program chair. “It’s been a wealth of riches, trying to select a Champion each month. That’s how outstanding our nominations have been.”
Rizzi’s nomination, however, had the committee that selected the annual honoree spellbound.
In the late 1990s, Rizzi’s daughter, Michelle Rizzi Salerno, a graduate student at Michigan State University, became entangled in an abusive marriage. After Michelle’s murder, Rizzi found herself at a spiritual crossroads.
“You drift around, wondering what to do,” she said. “You can either wallow in self-pity or try to make a difference.”
She chose the latter, driven by the memory of the daughter she lost. Beginning in her own backyard, Rizzi spearheaded efforts to enhance The University of Toledo Medical Center’s policies regarding domestic violence, promoting better awareness of abuse and ensuring victim resources are readily available in treatment areas.
A member of the Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force, Rizzi often recounts her daughter’s story during public awareness events, such as Take Back the Night and Silent Witness.
Silent Witness is particularly moving, as life-sized silhouettes create solemn displays to commemorate victims. The figure for Michelle Rizzi Salerno was northwest Ohio’s first silent witness.
“Pat Rizzi is an inspiration for all of us,” Burns said. “Her activism comes from a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.”
UT began its Jefferson Awards program last year to recognize the unsung heroes of volunteerism within the campus community. One honoree is selected each month from nominations submitted through the Jefferson Awards Web site at www.utoledo.edu/jeffersonaward.
Last year’s honorees were students Linda Amrou, Luc Blazejewski, Michael Miller, Natalie Powers, Will Schmitt, Mark Skopin, Emily Stinehart and Alex Wise; faculty member Dr. Barbara Kopp Miller; and staff members Connie Donald, Sue Kielczewski and Rizzi.
As UT’s annual honoree, Rizzi has the opportunity to attend a national Jefferson Awards seminar this June in Washington, D.C. Greg Moore, national director of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, was on hand to congratulate Rizzi during the luncheon.
Rizzi accepted the honor from Stinehart, last year’s annual honoree.