Rochelle Beth Butowsky Franks, 51, a Disability Program Officer at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, died from complications of pancreatic cancer on May 23, 2008 at her home in Vienna, Virginia. A SEC employee since 1988, Ms. Franks was the highest-ranking deaf person in the agency at the time of her passing. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 23, 1956, Ms. Franks had Usher Syndrome. After graduating from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, DC in 1974, Ms. Franks attended Gallaudet University, where she received a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1979. She earned a certificate of paralegalism from George Washington University in 1982, and a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling with deaf people from Gallaudet University in 1985.
While studying at George Washington University and for some time thereafter, she taught American Sign Language classes to hearing students, staff, and faculty. Ms. Franks worked for three years as a federal contractor before joining the SEC as a personnel specialist in 1988. In 1996, she became a disability program coordinator, and in 2002 a program officer. She was co-author of the agency's reasonable accommodations procedure manual, which became a model for other federal agencies. She managed several programs and contracts while providing individual and group consultation agency-wide. The SEC recognized her achievements with a special award in April, and is naming an annual award for employees of the Office of Human Resources in her memory.
Ms. Franks was very involved in health care programs for people who are deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing. She established the first known support group for deaf people living with HIV/AIDS, and provided volunteer counseling and support services to members of that group for many years. She was also very active in the deaf-blind community in the greater Washington area and nationwide. Several years ago, the Italian government invited her to conduct training and family counseling with families whose members are deaf-blind in Italy. Shortly before her death, Ms. Franks and her husband, Bruce D. Franks, endowed a fund at Gallaudet University to provide leadership training for people who are deaf-blind.
Ms. Franks was a long-time board member and executive director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government, and chaired one of that organization's national training conferences. She was also a founding member of the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in Fairfax, Virginia . Ms. Franks received numerous awards and prizes from local and national organizations for her advocacy work.
Ms. Franks is survived by her husband, Bruce D. Franks of Vienna, Virginia; her mother, Sally Sickles and her step-father, Alan Sickles, both of Dresher, Pennsylvania; her brother, Marc Stuart and his wife Victoria; a niece, Jennifer N. Stuart, and a nephew, Michael B. Stuart, all of Oak Park, California. Funeral services will begin at 10:30 am on June 1, 2008 at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, 8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Rabbi Lance J. Sussman will conduct services, with American Sign Language interpretation. Interment will be at Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Shiva will follow.
There will be a memorial service at Ms. Franks' alma mater, Gallaudet University, date and time will be announced later. Shelly requested, in lieu of flowers, contributions to Rochelle and Bruce D. Franks Deaf-Blind Leadership Training Fund may be sent to the Office of Development, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002 (Gallaudet Online Giving).