Carnegie Mellon University
September 28, 2020

Honoring the Remarkable Life of CMU Trustee Linda Dickerson

Jan. 12, 1961 — Sept. 26, 2020

Jason Maderer

The Carnegie Mellon University community lost one of its most passionate, resilient members this week with the passing of alumna and trustee Linda Dickerson.

As a child, Dickerson was diagnosed with a rare, genetic neuromuscular disease known as Werdnig-Hoffmann, a severe form of spinal muscular atrophy. She used a wheelchair her entire life and never was able to walk, and, for the last several years, was also unable to speak. Despite her profound physical challenges, she was able to live on her terms and graduate in 1981 from Carnegie Mellon with a bachelor's degree in small business management and marketing.

In fact, as the first person to attend CMU in a wheelchair, Dickerson remembered that her fellow classmates would carry her up the stairs so that she could attend classes in buildings that didn't have elevators. Her experience at the university was transformative and inspired a lifetime of influential work. In a recent email to President Farnam Jahanian, Dickerson wrote, "I still am proving that doing the impossible is fun! Know that CMU convinced me that all is possible."

Dickerson became one of Pittsburgh's strongest advocates for people with disabilities. Her persistence and resiliency gave her and others that shared her cause the strength to overcome barriers and challenges that they faced. She was central in the lobbying efforts to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into federal law in 1990. She was also an agent of change and progress at CMU, serving as a mentor for three university presidents in her role as a member of the Board of Trustees since 1998. Dickerson, a distinguished alumna and community advocate, died this past weekend. She was 59 years old.

"Linda's leadership and dedication have left an indelible mark on our university community, as well as the City of Pittsburgh," said Jim Rohr, chair of Carnegie Mellon's Board of Trustees. "I had the great pleasure of working with Linda numerous times throughout the decades on countless projects in her service to the Pittsburgh community, and CMU's leadership benefitted from her good counsel throughout her tenure as trustee. Our deepest condolences are extended to her family, friends and loved ones. We all mourn this great loss for CMU and Pittsburgh."

In 2005, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Community Foundation created the Linda A. Dickerson Fund for Disability Rights in her honor to provide grants to nonprofits that advocate for rights and services for people with disabilities.

Her legacy will live on at Carnegie Mellon as well. The Dickerson family established an endowed scholarship in her name in 1982. Her father, W. Logan Dickerson, is a CMU Trustee Emeritus and graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1948. A memorial to celebrate her life will be held on campus in the near future.

"Linda's tremendous passion for service, the Pittsburgh community and Carnegie Mellon was unmistakable," said Jahanian. "She would regularly write to me with guidance about CMU's initiatives and goals, expressing her wonderful spirit and love for our campus. Her compassion, advocacy and leadership were gifts she generously shared with so many, and her legacy will live on in the countless lives she affected throughout her incredible life. I will miss her greatly."

Jahanian added, "She enabled people to do great things by seeing what was possible in them. Linda made the world a better place."

In addition to serving as a tireless community advocate, Dickerson founded a successful nonprofit management consulting group that continues to provide pro bono work for organizations and individuals involved in disability rights issues and policy. That organization, 501(c)(3)2, also works with nonprofit executives and their boards of directors to optimize their institutions' performance.

Dickerson served as a member of more than two dozen community agencies and nonprofit boards, including Dress for Success Pittsburgh; Lydia's Place; Tickets for Kids Charities; Three Rivers Communities Foundation; Life's Work; Three Rivers Center for Independent Living; the United Way's Frail, Elderly and Disabled Task Force; the Airlift Research Foundation; and the advisory board of the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. She received more than 30 awards for her community achievements and further advocated for disability rights as mayoral appointee to the City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Joint Task Force on Disabilities.

Dickerson served as chief executive officer of the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and was the former owner and publisher of Executive Report magazine. In 2002, she published her first children's book, Lavi the Lion Finds His Pride.

As part of her service to Carnegie Mellon, Dickerson served on the Board of Trustees' Educational Affairs and Enrollment Committee, Executive Committee and the nominating committee. She also was an advisor to the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, Office of Human Resources, Department of Philosophy, University Libraries and University Relations. Most recently, Dickerson served on the Board's Properties and Facilities Committee, where one of her roles was to ensure accessibility for all on CMU's campus.

In addition to her Carnegie Mellon degree, Dickerson earned a master's degree in communications from Duquesne University, which also honored her as a distinguished alumna. She held honorary degrees from Chatham University and La Roche University.

More about her life is shared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.