Lust remembered as a great leader and advocate

Leah Patterson Lust will always be remembered for her cheerful attitude and advocacy for people with disabilities.

Leah, who was appointed to the board in the spring of 2018, passed away April 25 following complications and a prolonged illness related to recent surgery.

Karen Freeman officially helps swear in Leah Patterson Lust to the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

Karen Freeman officially helps swear in Leah Patterson Lust to the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

Leah, who sustained a spinal cord injury at age 17 in a car accident and used a wheelchair for mobility, provided the board with a more detailed view of the challenges faced by those with disabilities. At the time of her appointment, she said her goal was to help bring solutions to some of these “The people in (central Alabama) with disabilities and throughout the state have many needs,” she said. “I hope that I can bring information to the table that will be beneficial and that will help the agency as it tries to meet the ADRS Commissioner Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw said Leah was always true to that mission and approached every challenge with a positive attitude.

“Leah was a joy to work with,” she said. “I’m so glad I got to know her and that she was willing to join our board. She loved helping others, encouraging others, and making others smile.”

Leah was a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

Her career began at Druid City Hospital (DCH) in Tuscaloosa as a staff social worker for two years before moving to Cullman Regional Medical Center as director of social work for 10 years. Leah was elected probate judge of Cullman County, and after a six-year term joined The Delta Center Counseling Agency with Dr. Howard Rodgers, LPC. She assisted individuals and families in the areas of crisis intervention, marriage and family, substance abuse, and grief and bereavement.

Burdeshaw said Leah’s experiences, both personally and professionally, made her a great addition to the board.

“She was truly interested in individuals and how helping individuals ultimately helped a community,” she said.

Leah spent the last 18 years in Cullman with her husband Michael, who was living in Madison when a mutual friend hoped to introduce them. Michael’s career took him to New Mexico and southern Illinois, but the two were still able to start a relationship. He moved to Cullman in 2001, and they were married in 2002.

Even with demanding jobs, Michael said she still had time to get into the community and advocate.

Leah often visited polling places, community buildings, and other locations that were not as accessible as needed. Some of the older buildings had ramps that were too steep or too narrow, and Leah worked hard to make sure they were upgraded to become accessible to everyone.

District 4 representative Leah Patterson Lust is pictured during a recent meeting of the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

District 4 representative Leah Patterson Lust is pictured during a recent meeting of the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services.

“She constantly advocated for those types of situations and advocated – as funding was available – to repair the ramps or make them more accessible,” Michael said. “She always was very aware of those things. She did not approach that for herself. She approached it for the members of the community that were using a building, community center, or polling place.”

Once Leah was out of public office, Michael said she focused significantly more toward advocacy and counseling. She made home visits to people who were injured and would be utilizing chairs and offered advice on accommodations.

“She would go through their homes and help them to understand that a door might have to be wider; ‘this area needs grab bars, you’re going to have to have this type of shower,’” he said. “She could pretty much go through and give them a laundry list in their home of what they needed to do to make that home suitable for a paralyzed person.”

During this time, she was approached by her longtime friend and Alabama Assistant Attorney General Graham Sisson about the possibility of representing District 4 on the Alabama Board of Rehabilitation Services. Michael said he can still remember her enthusiasm.

Sisson said suggesting Lust was an easy decision because of her hard work, dedication and friendly demeanor.

“Leah was a beautiful person inside and out. She had a big heart and passion for anyone needing help and devoted her life to making the world a better place for all people, including those with disabilities,” he said. “She was also a very intelligent person who knew had to connect with people. She was a valued member of the State Rehabilitation Council and a great disability advocate. She will be missed.”

Even now, Leah continues to have a positive effect on those served by the ADRS family. Michael said he received several donations in her name and contacted Commissioner Burdeshaw to see how the funds might be applied to the department’s programs. The two decided the money could best be used in Leah’s hometown through the ADRS State of Alabama Independent Living/Homebound program. The program partners with volunteers to build ramps for people with limited mobility, and one of the upcoming projects is being designed for a resident of Cullman.

Michael said Leah’s passion was advocating and assisting people with paralysis, and he knows there is a constant need for ramps. He said it is exciting to help one of Leah’s fellow Cullman County citizens.

“I want to donate what I have received to purchase building materials,” he said. “We are going to try to make an impact on at least one life.”

Michael said that the construction of the ramp would make Leah very proud because she was always looking out for everyone else.

“She viewed the other person before she viewed herself, and she was always looking for a way to help people, how to assist people; (asking) ‘what do they need or what resources are available?’” he said. “She tried to use what she knew to benefit others, and I think she never wavered from that commitment.”

Leah was also a member of the Day Star House Board and a founding director of OASIS: Suicide Prevention Outreach. She was a past member of the state of Alabama Rehabilitation Council and a former chair of the state of Alabama Independent Living Council.

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