We celebrate the life and work of Cornerstones’ Board Chair Stuart Rakoff, PhD. Stu passed away on January 5th after a valiant fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Stu will be remembered by all who knew him as a leader, mentor and friend, and for his incredible courage through adversity.
Stu had a keen mind, compassion for the human condition, and a great vision for the work of Cornerstones and the Reston community he loved. Driven by concern for the unmet social needs he saw right outside his window, he could be impatient with tepid response to the pace of change required to help. He was never shy about letting you know what he was thinking and where you might be going wrong, but was equally quick to listen and acknowledge another view. Stu never failed to engage us in debate, challenging us to think, act, innovate, measure, adjust and respond with real solutions for those in need.
A homeless advocate and volunteer at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter, Stu served on the Reston Interfaith (now Cornerstones) Board in the early years of the organization. After a hiatus, he returned as an at-large member, warning that he was not simply coming back to warm a chair, but expected to be inspired and challenged, and to challenge us back.
Stu made good on that promise, stepping in at a time when we had seen incredible growth but were feeling the pressure of keeping up with even the most basic needs of our neighbors. As Program Oversight Committee chair, he worked to bring greater focus for our work through an action-oriented strategic plan. His efforts led to Cornerstones declaring some bold goals through 2015: doubling our housing stock, strengthening the wrap-around services that would bring greater family stability, and a return to community-building and engagement that is a core piece of Reston, and Cornerstones’ roots. Stu was an enthusiastic advocate for Cornerstones’ decision to become the “backbone” organization in an innovative model of social change known as “collective impact” through the Connections for Hope Partnership and nonprofit center.
Stu established the organization’s strong commitment to evaluation and continuous learning that is an integral part of our work today. Recognizing our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us, he also understood that the stakes for our clients are too high to take any approach for granted.
He served as Treasurer and established our investment and endowment policies to provide for a sustained community contribution. As our Board Chair since July 2013, one of his last efforts was in implementing our name change from Reston Interfaith to Cornerstones. Stu believed strongly that a new name could both represent the belief and courage of people of faith and goodwill who founded the organization around Robert E. Simon’s core principles, while welcoming new supporters who understand the need to build a lasting foundation of hope and care for people in need.
ALS could never touch Stu’s intellect or wit, and we are grateful he maintained the ability through technology to be an active participant in his life to the end—typing out the words that allowed him to conduct a board meeting, inspire a room of supporters, issue a well-aimed curse, or just convey how much he valued your work and friendship.
Even in those last hard months when the inevitable became all too real, Stu was unfailingly generous in the time he gave to the people and causes he cared about. We “talked” daily online and at odd hours, and it will be some time before I see a new mail alert without hoping that it might be Stu with an article or idea to make us stronger, or just a joke or caring word to remind us of the things that matter: the love of family and friends, and the responsibility to share your gifts with others.
Sheriff Stu, we are retiring your badge—you served with honor; you gave your all.