Skip to main content

In Memoriam: Vanessa Rich, Lifelong Advocate

Vanessa Ann Rich, City of Chicago Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Family and Support Services, died on Sunday, December 27, 2015 at the age of 64.

Vanessa engaged herself completely in everything she cared about. That she cared so much for Head Start meant that the millions of children and families she touched had a unique opportunity for success in life. Vanessa was a brilliant and formidable leader, a fearless advocate, and a kind, devoted friend. Born on October 30, 1951 in Monmouth, Illinois, Vanessa served as a teen volunteer intern for the newly created Head Start program in the summer of 1965, a transformative experience that set the course for her life’s work. Throughout a career spanning more than 40 years, Vanessa remained a remarkable early learning advocate – embracing and pursuing professional opportunities that would fuel her passion to expand opportunity for vulnerable children and families.

Her career highlights bear witness to her unwavering commitment to expanding access to critical early learning services: Chair of the Board of the National Head Start Association; Head Start Director of Hope Head Start in Galesburg, Illinois; Dean of Adult Education at Wilbur Wright College; Visiting Professor at the Head Start Management Academy; and numerous leadership roles providing Head Start training, technical assistance and quality improvements to programs nationwide.

During her 11-year tenure with Chicago, the city’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs earned national recognition and access to quality early learning was expanded to thousands of the city’s most vulnerable children.

Vanessa once said, “In Head Start, we don’t just stand on the porch, we come all the way into the house.” That is how she lived: all the way in. Her fervent belief in the value of quality early learning — and the bold, deliberate, determination with which she pursued that conviction — will continue inspiring and fortifying the entire Head Start community.