Missing Michele: The ‘Inspiring Child Advocate and Indomitable Force’

Question: What is the definition of a child advocate? Answer: Michele Robotham Corey

Michele Corey came on the staff of Michigan’s Children in the late 1990s while she was still in her twenties. She brought youth, intellect, zeal and her characteristic good nature. It is really not surprising, but little did I know at the time, that she would one day become the pillar that held up the organization.

Only a few years before hiring Michele, I had the honor of being chosen to lead Michigan’s Children, which was still in the fledgling stages of becoming the hub for children’s policy advocacy in the state of Michigan. Michele quickly became crucial to that goal. At that time, Michele already possessed expansive policy knowledge across a range of issues, which only deepened as time went on. She also brought creativity, enthusiasm and that keen quest for knowledge that she never lost. As time went on, Michele began to display a unique networking ability that suggested she was born to nurture coalitions, especially at the grass roots level, for the purpose of strengthening the status of all children.

It was likely because of the intensity of her grass roots focus that Michele consistently eschewed any idea of administrative leadership for herself. Yet, some years after I left Michigan’s Children, when the organization underwent an exceedingly vulnerable period, Michele became both the glue that held it together and the sustaining pillar that I mentioned before. During the period that Michele and I worked together, along with Pat Sorenson and many others, a vision took hold for bringing together voices and strategies to influence policy improvements for children and youth. Michele simply would not give up on that vision I have no doubt that Matt Gillard, in whose capable hands Michigan’s Children eventually landed, feels as daunted as I would over the prospect of inspiring child advocacy absent the indomitable force that was Michele. Without a doubt, Michele inspired the people she worked for just as much as those she worked with.

Michele’s nurturing spirit extended well past the organization for which she worked, and I was lucky to be a part of that too. Michele’s family and mine lived within a block of each other on Lansing’s west side before I moved away. I was around for the birth of her children and she had a bird’s eye view of the adolescence of mine. I got to share time with her mother, Kathryn, as she engaged in the glories of early childhood grandparenting. I remember walks with Michele and the kids to the park, and many times, standing in front of one another’s houses just talking as if, or because, we had not gotten enough of each other at the office.

Teri Banas titled her request for this essay as “Missing Michele.” Oh yes, I do miss Michele. My heart goes out to her mom and her dad. And to Tom Corey, all four of his beautiful children, and the two grandchildren I have yet to meet; words do not express the heartbreak. I only offer that, as with you, Michele will live forever in my heart. And I know just as surely, Michele’s legacy will live on at Michigan’s Children and among the informal statewide network of advocates she inspired.

Sharon Claytor Peters served as President & CEO of Michigan’s Children from 1996 – 2008.