Mayor's Office Press Release
Mayor Parker Remembers Local disabilities Rights Pioneer
August 14, 2015 -- The world’s longest living survivor with a level C-1/C-2 spinal cord injury passed away on August 7, 2015. Kathleen DeSilva was 63.
Injured in a gymnastics accident at the age of 16, DeSilva was told she would live only another two to three years. She went on to prove the doctors wrong and spent the rest of her life fighting for the rights of the disabled.
“Kathleen was out there advocating for the rights of disabled Americans long before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990,” said Mayor Parker. “For her and her many accomplishments, it was never a matter of "IF" only "WHEN". She was never willing to listen when others told her she couldn’t do something. She thought of herself as ordinary and no different than anyone else who faced difficult obstacles.”
DeSilva joined the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) as In-House Counsel in 1982 - the very same hospital that offered her a chance at an independent life. She served as a source of hope and inspiration to those facing similar injuries and circumstances, advising them to never give up hope and to never abandon their dreams.
In 1998, Mayor Lee Brown nominated DeSilva to the METRO board. She served on various committees dealing with the challenges facing disabled riders and their needs, and traveled the country and Canada observing how other major cities developed their light rail systems. She retired from TIRR and METRO in 2004, but remained active in disability advocacy from her home in Houston's historic Heights neighborhood.
DeSilva graduated Magna Cum Laude from Rice University in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She also graduated with honors from the UH - Bates College of Law in 1980. At the time, neither campus was considered handicap accessible, which forced DeSilva to depend on friends and fellow students for assistance in getting to and from class and taking notes. She took her bar exam orally, with the assistance of a professor. After several grueling hours verbally explaining her answers to complex questions, she received one of the highest scores on record.
DeSilva’s journey is documented in her 1996 biography "Don't Tell Me I Can't.” She is survived by her husband of 31 years Peter Simmons, two brothers and four sisters.
A celebration of life service is scheduled for Saturday August 22nd to honor Kathleen's life at The Heights Villa - 3600 Michaux St, Houston, TX 77009.