Dinner honors NASW CEO Betsy Clark

Betsy ClarkElvira Craig de Silva, a past president of NASW, left, hugs Betsy Clark during a dinner in April to honor Clark, who stepped down in May after leading NASW for 12 years as director and CEO.

More than 200 people gathered at a reception and dinner in April to celebrate and recount memories with NASW CEO Elizabeth J. Clark, as she prepared to step down from her position after 12 years.

The event was held during NASW’s Annual Leadership Meeting in Washington, D.C., and included past NASW presidents, colleagues and others who told stories of working with Clark and remarked about all she has done for the association and the social work profession.

During the reception, two people who have worked closely with Clark spoke about her tenure at NASW and the theme of hope, which has been one of Clark’s key messages.

“I’m so thankful for Betsy’s contribution to NASW and our opportunity to work together,” said Gary Bailey, a past NASW president and the current president of the International Federation of Social Workers. “She has really left her mark on NASW and the profession — and she’s left us with hope.”

Mitt Joyner, chairwoman of the Council on Social Work Education board of directors, said she has enjoyed working with Clark to improve the profession.

“We want to thank Betsy for building bridges and working with us as partners to advance social work education and the social work profession to build better tomorrows for those who lost hope,” she said.

During the dinner, attendees heard from former NASW presidents Ruth Mayden, Terry Mizrahi, Bailey and Elvira Craig de Silva, as well as current NASW President Jeane Anastas. Jim Kelly, also a former NASW president, was unable to attend, but past president Suzanne Dworak Peck delivered his remarks.

Mayden said she was on the board that interviewed and selected Clark for the top position at NASW in 2001, and said they were “blown away by Betsy.” Mizrahi said she always thought of herself and Clark as the “dynamic duo,” adding they took a collaborative rather than confrontational approach during their time working together.

Peck, reading from Kelly’s speech, said “Betsy helped bring us into the 21st century,” adding that her international initiatives like Social Workers Across Nations, or SWAN, and her collaboration with the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) left a positive mark.

Kelly said his only complaint is that when traveling with Betsy, she could not stop talking shop.

“She was a woman with a mission,” he said in his speech. “I’m honored and grateful to have served alongside her. Thank you Betsy.”

Anastas commented that she was excited to work with Clark because she knew how much she would learn. She added that Clark is and will always be viewed as a “transformative executive leader.”

Tom Kean, of C-Change, said he was always struck by Clark’s spirit of collaboration, and her attitude of “not what can I get, but what can I do?” And Donald Schumacher, of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, called Clark “a cross between Mother Teresa and a pit bull terrier.”

Clark received a standing ovation when she took the podium, and joked that she felt like President Obama.

Clark thanked her family, who were in attendance, for all of their support over the years. She also thanked colleagues, social work leaders, friends, co-workers and NASW staff.

She listed among her most significant achievements while at NASW, last year’s Hope conference, the SWAN initiative, the Social Work Congresses and the Social Work Reinvestment Act. But she said one thing stands out for her.

“When I think about a legacy, I think about SWAN,” Clark said, remembering the countries NASW has worked with since SWAN’s formation in 2008. “Social work is now a global profession,” she added.

In closing, Clark said she is not retiring but isn’t yet sure where she’ll go next. She said those who know her best realize she is not a “touchy-feely” person, but this event was an exception.

“I’ve been hugged more tonight than I probably will be in the next two years,” she said. “But I enjoyed it.”

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