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Tribute to Sandi Chavis
Director of HUD's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity

by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
June 7, 1999

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Parkton, North Carolina. Parkton is not what you would call "on the beaten path," but nothing and nobody could have kept me away from that small Carolina town that Thursday.

I went to Parkton to say farewell to a friend, and to celebrate the remarkable life of a remarkable person - Sandi Chavis. I will never forget the scene that day in the First Baptist Church.

The church was filled with "family" - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children, AND many of the same faces I see right now. Sandi's family was not limited by blood - we were part of Sandi's family and we thank God that Sandi was part of ours.

Sandi spent 20 years with HUD. God bless her soul. And in my 6 years at the Department, I can think of no one person who has had a greater impact on the Department.

She slowly but surely worked her way up the ladder. And she eventually became Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. Anyone can hold a position, have a title that they can put on a business card. But Sandi was one of the rare people who was a true professional - who possessed the intelligence and the character to turn her position into a vehicle for positive social change.

Talk to people who knew her. They will tell you this was the job that she always wanted. For 20 years, this is where she wanted to be - the office of Equal Opportunity. Because her career was never about doing a job, it was about pursuing a mission. It was about her own personal quest for equality for all. Her own commitment to justice for all.

Sandi Chavis was a true champion for Civil Rights, not only through her work, but through the example of her life.

She was the daughter of sharecroppers, and opportunity was not necessarily knocking down her door as a young person. But her parents believed in her ability, and encouraged her to strive toward the highest heights.

Sandi would realize her parents' dreams, earning a scholarship to attend college, using her education to get a job with the government, and eventually securing a position as one of this nation's leading defenders of civil rights and equal opportunity.

Her example will be greatly missed but long remembered.

But what we will miss the most about Sandi is her devotion and loyalty to her friends. Once she was on your side, she was immovable, and what pride and pleasure she took in her friends' successes, and how incredibly comforting her presence could be when the news was not good.

Over the past days, as we have reminisced about our memories of Sandi, one point was repeated over and over again: Sandi had the ability to forge strong bonds of friendship with not only a wide range of people intellectually and professionally, but also with people from completely different generations and backgrounds.

The reason Sandi did this so easily was because she treated everyone alike. She didn't talk down to you. She related with you. She answered questions honestly - and more important she listened. And she always put other people and their concerns first.

And finally there was that smile - that disarming smile that made you feel good even when you couldn't disagree more about the topic you were debating. Sandi won us all over with that smile and we will never forget her.

About a month ago, Sandi gave a speech on the state of women in the workplace from this very podium. And she shared her own personal history with the audience that day. I want to close my remarks this day by sharing Sandi's closing words on that day.

"I'd like to tell you how important it is that we take advantage of our opportunities as they present themselves and that we also take the time to reach out and touch somebody else's career, somebody else's life, and to be there to serve as a source of inspiration."

Sandi, you touched our lives. You inspired us. And we are better people for having known you.

In the 30th Psalm, it reads, "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." We have made it through the night. Now we must welcome the morning.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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