You probably didn’t know Sally Goodrich. She was, among other things, a teacher and school administrator; a cancer survivor; wife of a small-town lawyer from North Adams, Massachusetts; the mother of a young man killed on 9/11; and eventually, a dedicated advocate for Afghan civilians, particularly for girls and young women.
It was in this last role that Sally attained a modicum of notoriety. Not nearly as much as Greg Mortenson, the internationally acclaimed humanitarian and author of Three Cups of Tea. This week, in a devastating article published online and in a “60 Minutes” interview, author Jon Krakauer accused Mortenson of falsifying his memoir and worse, of ripping off the charitable foundation he established.
We’re going to be hearing a lot about this story; we already are--which is why I’ve been thinking of Sally. The accusations against Mortensen, if true, present a depressing “teacup half empty” view of relief efforts in Afghanistan. Sally’s story, heartbreaking though it is, fills the cup again.
Immediately after 9/11, Sally started, along with her husband Don and a few others, Families of September 11 (FOS11), an organization that worked on behalf of 9/11 relatives around the globe. I got to know Sally when I worked with the organization, first on the board and then as its executive director. She was a gracious and giving, with a sharp New England wit. Like all of us, she was suffering. Worse, on top of the delayed grief and depression, she had to deal with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer which came in 2002. It was a difficult time.
In 2004, Sally heard from a Marine in Afghanistan, a friend of her late son Peter, who asked her to collect supplies for school children. It was then that Sally found her calling, a way to lift herself out of depression and create something positive to honor her son’s spirit. In 2005, Sally and Don founded the Peter M Goodrich Memorial Foundation.The organization has raised over a million dollars, some of which was used to build a 500-student coed school. It also supports an orphanage in the Pashtun and raises money for, among other projects, disabled landmine victims, a dental clinic, exchange students in the United States, victims of natural disasters and other school projects.
Sally made several trips to Afghanistan beginning in 2005. That year, she was ABC’s “Person of the Week” because she “turned personal loss into hope for hundreds.” She traveled back in 2007 and again in 2009. Then her cancer returned. In December of last year, Sally died at the age of 65.
Sally was an eloquent woman but she never wrote a book, never went on a speaking tour, never took any money from the foundation. The projects gave her back her life, she said, and that was enough. For the hundreds she’s helped, it’s more than enough.
Filmmaker Rick Derby has created a short film—Axis of Good-- about Sally’s work. I hope this might take some attention away from the Mortensen story. Of course, big scandal and big money make up a bigger story, but sometimes a small tale holds a big heart.
image: Axis of Good