Former co-workers and friends remember

Mark BattleMark Battle never shied away from conflict.

“Mark fought for what he believed in,” said longtime social work colleague Betsy Vourlekis. “He was a firm believer in the power of good information.”

Battle, who led NASW as executive director from 1984 to 1992, died Oct. 26 at age 87.

In addition to his role at NASW, Battle’s path in helping others included educator, consultant, businessman and government leader.

During his NASW tenure, the association’s membership grew and he heightened social work’s respectability by forging close relationships with other health and behavioral health organizations and government agencies.

“He had a real sense of how the profession should be positioned,” said Vourlekis, a social work professor at the University of Maryland. She worked with Battle as a NASW staffer and as collaborator in federal initiatives. When Battle came to NASW, “the world was changing, and he was a visionary as much as he was a manager,” she said. “I learned a great deal from him over the years.”

Vourlekis fondly recalled Battle’s aspiration to build a repository of social work’s value to society by supporting the creation of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, which Vourlekis led for a period.

“This was a mission that Mark fought for and believed in,” she said. “It was clear we did not have a lot of good information about what we do. We needed hard data.”

Vourlekis and Battle served also served as co-chairs of the NASW Social Work Pioneers® Steering Committee for many years.

Battle’s leadership was highlighted by several important milestones, according to NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark. They include the establishment of a permanent home for NASW in Washington, D.C., and his contributions to high-level initiatives, such as co-presenting a speech with South African human rights activist Desmond Tutu against apartheid, introducing the NASW National Health Care Act of 1992 and speaking on “Voice of America” to 130 million listeners about the important role social workers play in society.

Battle himself candidly reflected on his years at the association in the NASW News as the “most taxing, demanding, stressful and rewarding years” of his career. “No other employment has provided me, at least periodically, with such a deep sense of personal fulfillment.”

A memorial ceremony held at the Cosmos Club in Washington in December was attended by many current and past NASW leaders and staff. At the remembrance, Clark noted that Battle, who received the NASW Social Work Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, wanted to represent the whole professional at its best.

“Mark Battle himself represented the best of the profession,” she said.

Former NASW presidents, Gary Bailey, Suzanne Dworak-Peck and James Kelly, praised Battle’s efforts and said his actions made lasting impressions.

Bailey recalled that Battle revitalized NASW with an energetic and dynamic staff, creating a new and innovative organization.

“He was someone I respected and enjoyed working with,” Bailey said. “He was always open to new ideas but not afraid to question and to clarify any challenge and opportunity.”

Dworak-Peck served as president during Battle’s tenure. “I will remember Mark not only for his outstanding management capabilities, but also as a caring human being. Our clients, our profession and our society are all better today because of Mark Battle,” she said.

Kelly noted, “Mark was a great visionary and he was someone I could go to for wise counsel. It was my honor and pleasure to know and work with Mark Battle and I will miss him very much.”

Jesse Harris, professor of social work at the University of Maryland, called Battle a Renaissance man.

“Not only was he dedicated and committed to the ideals of NASW, but he was a role model for all social workers who fought for justice,” Harris said. “He was an outstanding educator and scholar, a mentor for many, an entrepreneur, an admired administrator and manager, and a wonderful friend to many. He will be missed but not forgotten.”

A complete overview of Battle’s career and accomplishments, as well as tributes to his life, can be found at NASW Social Work Pioneers®.