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Remembering my daughter, Dede Rogers

April 8, 2019 GMT

Dorothy Jo (Dede) Rogers died instantly when she was struck by a car in Huntington Beach, Calif., on March 9.

Tragically, Dede was mentally ill and homeless. She received extensive treatment, with little success. Her illness became graphically evident when she burned our family home to the ground on Sept. 6, 1980, at age 22. After the fire, I met with Dr. Robert Daly of Park City Hospital in Bridgeport, Conn. He said that Dede’s future life would be most difficult because of the closure of mental hospitals, inadequate replacement facilities and prohibitively expensive private hospitals. Dede was diagnosed as bipolar with schizophrenic tendencies.

Insurance covered a year’s stay at Highland Hospital in Asheville, N.C. Unfortunately, after this intensive therapy, Dede was released to the wide, wide world with no halfway house or transition plan. She had spent a year in jail for the arson prior to her hospitalization. Thus began a life of homelessness and jail. She married and Troy was born in 1983. Divorce followed. Troy was raised by his paternal aunt and uncle, Sharon and Jim Coffey.

As a young teenager, Dede loved animals — her Icelandic pony, Jude, cat, Tuxy, and the family dogs, Lucy and Augie. She was the anchor kid on a relay swim team that set county records. She loved reading and art. Her huge Leopard with Yellow Spots hung in our kitchen gallery.

Typically of the mentally ill, Dede self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. As a mother and responsible citizen, I write this to make mental illness a reality in all of our lives and advocate for an expansive treatment program, now sadly inadequate. The mentally ill person and loved ones tragically have to deal with stigma; individuals are “crazy” as well as their family having “crazy” genes. Mental illness is as real as diabetes or heart disease. It is a disease of the brain that can be treated with public awareness, understanding and proven medical practice. Mental illness, in one form or another, affects 1 in 5 Americans.

After a robust mental health plan under President Jimmy Carter in 1980, President Ronald Reagan closed almost all mental hospitals, creating our homeless. They were on the streets in droves to fend for themselves as they are doing today.

“Jails have become society’s primary mental institutions, though few have the funding or expertise to carry out that role properly,” New York author and columnist Heather Mac Donald wrote in the City Journal. By 2010, there were “43,000 psychiatric beds in the United States, or about 14 beds per 100,000 people — the same ratio as in 1850,” wrote Deanna Pan in Mother Jones.

Mental illness affected such luminaries as Churchill, Hemingway, Newton, Tolstoy, O’Neill, Lincoln, Van Gogh and Beethoven. Typical to the illness, it manifests itself in extremely creative human beings.

A July memorial is planned. If you wish, gifts may be sent to NAMI Santa Fe (National Alliance on Mental Illness) P.O. Box 6423, Santa Fe, NM 87502, https://namisantafe.org/donate_now/ or to your charity of choice.

Dede was born July 8, 1958, in Greenwich, Conn., to Dorothy Dannemiller Rogers-Abbey, Santa Fe artist, gallerist and writer, and the late Robert D. Rogers, Connecticut state legislator, 1969-73.

Dede was the stepdaughter of the late Shirl C. Abbey of Santa Fe. She leaves a son, Troy David Smith Jr., his stepparents, Sharon and Jim Coffey, her sister, Laurie Rogers Myer (Colin), three brothers Bill (Sarah), Bob (Barbara) and Tim Rogers (Yvette), nine nieces and nephews and 32 first cousins.

Dorothy Rogers-Abbey is a Santa Fe artist, gallerist and writer, and lives in Santa Fe.