By Melanie Wisniewski
Special to the TJP
If you’re Pat Peiser, NCJW Dallas past president and recipient of its first Lifetime Achievement Award, it takes a long, full weekend to contain a century of honors and joy.
Festivities began with Shabbat services, Friday, Aug. 5, and a special blessing from her granddaughter, Rabbi Alison Peiser, followed by dinner at her son Richard’s home. Family flew in from Toronto and Chicago, and Pat enjoyed lunches with her four grandchildren Saturday, and a Sunday brunch at the home of her daughter, Nancy Peiser Kreiger. Pat was surrounded by family, friends, flowers and accolades, as her community celebration was held Saturday night with over 40 people in attendance. Stories and memories from over 100 additional friends from across the country filled a Memory Book, and mountains of cards with loving wishes crowded tables. The celebrations concluded on Monday, Aug. 8 — Pat’s birthday — with a traditional family dinner.
At all events celebrating Pat’s 100 years, it was clear Pat has made every day of every year count.
Pat joined NCJW Dallas in 1955 as a young mother and volunteer, becoming its president in 1960. Under her leadership, members worked with the Dallas Council of Social Agencies and other volunteers to investigate the conditions of children living in Dallas County and the social services available to them. Over the next three years, this group compiled a 12-volume report titled “Child Welfare Study of Dallas County.” It addressed every element of service for children and families and presented 282 recommendations.
NCJW Dallas then determined that the findings and recommendations needed to be promoted so residents would become aware of the problems and participate in the solutions. They partnered with the Junior League of Dallas and together created a four-act drama titled “Direction for Tomorrow.” It premiered at Dallas Memorial Auditorium (a part of Dallas’ original Convention Center) on June 13, 1963, to an audience of 700, including many county and city officials. It was also presented to organizations throughout Dallas County accompanied by a booklet they developed summarizing their findings. Both NCJW Dallas and the Junior League of Dallas were awarded the Child Welfare League of America’s Edith L. Lauer Award at the League’s national convention in 1964.
When Pat’s son left for college, Pat joined the world of professional counselors by becoming the first social worker at Scottish Rite Hospital. In that capacity, she helped resettle children back in their communities, and found effective resources for the families. For three decades, from 1966 to 1996, she established a department of social workers that fulfilled discharge, follow-up and family needs. She was recognized as Social Worker of the Year by the Texas Association of Social Workers.
Pat continued to be a very active NCJW Dallas member after her presidency. Along with other past presidents and members, they focused the organization’s energies in the ‘70s on the needs of seniors. Research during the period showed that seniors were particularly vulnerable to crime, so Pat and other NCJW Dallas past presidents organized a Senior Safety Committee to coordinate a workshop to combat crimes against older adults. In 1977, they convened a seminar focused on the physical and fraudulent victimization of the elderly. Attended by 18 agencies and organizations, the seminar evolved into the Senior Safety Task Force, a component of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, and expanded its reach to include banking, education, the police and media as well. Work on the needs of seniors continued through the next decade. In 1992 it culminated in the launch of Safeguards for Seniors with Pat as its director. The program initially focused on medication misuse by seniors and brought pharmacists to community centers and nursing homes throughout the area to help seniors with medication reviews. It later expanded to include other concerns including senior driving and computer hacking. Pat remained its director until she retired.
Pat’s dedication and accomplishments did not go unrecognized in the community, and she received many commendations and awards. Two of the most noteworthy included the Women Helping Women Award from the Texas Women’s Foundation, which she received in 2009 along with former first lady Laura Bush. In 2015, she also received NCJW Dallas’ first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.
But perhaps the best description of Pat’s lifelong dedication to tikkun olam comes from her friend and neighbor, NCJW Dallas Past President Syl Benenson. Syl first got to know Pat when she and Life Member Anita Marcus attended their first national NCJW Conference in San Francisco along with Pat. At the time, Pat was NCJW’s national board secretary, and the three of them shared a room at the Fairmont Hotel. Pat was so dedicated to her position that she stayed up almost all night, every night of the convention, typing up the day’s minutes to ensure they would be available to all the next morning.
Throughout her long career, Pat was also always thoughtful of others. Nicole Gray, NCJW Dallas’ office administrator, shared the following story about her first day of work:
“Pat came by to see Suzi Greenman [the new NCJW executive director], but she also came to welcome me. She sat down in the front office and made an effort to get to know me. She has a soft but sure way of speaking and her welcome was very genuine and personal. She made me feel at ease and assured that I had made the right decision in accepting the position. Of course [other NCJW Dallas members] made me feel like I was welcome. Pat’s words and kind spirit made me feel like I belonged.”
Ask Pat to identify her greatest achievement and she will not hesitate to tell you it is her family. She was devoted to her husband, Maurice Bondy Peiser, of blessed memory. Her daughter Nancy speaks for the whole family when she says, “She always modeled the loving relationships that she has always prioritized.”
At 100, Pat has barely slowed down. She moved from Dallas to Massachusetts a year ago to be closer to family, but still lives independently in a senior living community. Renowned for her quick wit and meticulous attention to detail, she still sees the world through rose-colored glasses and focuses on the positive. Her passion, compassion, creativity and adaptiveness helped her cultivate decades of strong friendships and community relationships in Dallas and beyond and drove her to be the force behind creating lasting change for the Greater Dallas community.
NCJW Dallas Communication & Program director