Lakewood League Of Women Voters 100th Anniversary 100 Pillars Spotlight: Mary Osburn
Mary Osburn is a facilitator. She has spent her career helping people and programs get a new start on life, both in the League of Women Voters and in her community. Born in Brooklyn, the family moved to North Royalton where she found school boring, especially math. But her father, a bank president, and her mother were firm believers that all three of their children needed a college education, and so she persevered and graduated from Ohio Northern University with a degree in sociology.
Her first job was with the Lorain County department of Human Services as a social worker. Although she loved the work, in a while, through the “lucky indulgence” of her parents, Mary spent a year doing dinner theater in North Royalton. “After a while, I decided to put on my big girl pants and went to work for the Red Cross as a donor recruiter. The Powers that Be believed that if you could get 300 million people to use deodorant, you should be able to get them to give blood! Of course, having someone put a needle in your arm is a lot different, but that was the mind set.” About that time the Red Cross lowered the age for blood donors to 17, and Mary was charged with recruiting high school students. “They were a great source. They were happy to get out of math or science for an hour or two. The funny thing was, it was the big beefy guys who were most likely to faint, whereas those skinny little girls would put rocks in their pockets to make the weight requirement. The students really wanted to donate. Back in the day, Lakewood High led the county for the most blood donors. I was invited to the senior government classes to recruit and I would explain the process, how the Red Cross separated the blood, and what they did with it. They needed a lot of blood then, for liver and hip replacement surgeries, procedures that were new at the time.”
From the Red Cross, Mary moved on to become the ombudsman for Lakewood Hospital. “I was the liaison between patients and their families and the staff. Much of it was the social work that I loved doing.” The job changed dramatically in 1999 when the Institute of Medicine published a report called “To Err is Human.” Their research indicated that medical errors caused the deaths of 98,000 people every year, and gave specific and detailed recommendations for improvement. Through the agency of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) a list of patient rights was created and the ombudsman became wedded to overseeing that patient safety and rights became a top priority. “This elevated the position. Now the hospital was responsible for following up on grievances with a written letter telling the patient what had been done to correct a situation, and we had to provide the phone numbers for the Ohio Department of Health, the joint Commission, and CMS in Chicago in case the complainant was not satisfied. I wrote letters and did investigations. I enjoyed the work. It was always something different. One minute I would be looking for someone’s dentures, and the next I’d be in the ICU with an end of life dilemma. It’s not the kind of job where you can go in and think, I’ll do this and this and this today. You had to be flexible and expect the unexpected.”
Mary joined the League of Women Voters in the early 1990s following a Women’s Fair at Lakewood Hospital. “I had a lot of friends in the League, Linda Beebe, Pam Smith, and a lot of others; Lakewood is a nice chapter, and very active.” Mary helped put together programs for First Thursdays, monthly forums with speakers on community issues held at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. She wrote questions for the League’s 411 Voter Guides and followed up by reminding candidates of deadlines. In 2019, with the help of Janet Patterson and Pam Smith, Mary put together a power point presentation featuring the life and times of suffragist Alice Paul and her fight for women’s rights and the 19th amendment. “I had a suffragist outfit with the sash and all, and we went to high schools, Plymouth Church downtown and various locations and were very well received. Then came Covid and everything shut down, but it was a wonderful experience.” For now, Mary is active on the board of Lakewood Senior Citizens, Inc. in connection with the Barton Senior Center. She is stepping back a little from the League to give the next generation the opportunity to contribute. “I’d encourage anyone to join the League. Yes they can be slow and deliberate, but that’s what gives them their credibility.”
Carol Thum is League of Women Voters Member and wordsmith.
Carol Thum, League of Women Voters Member and wordsmith.