Laura Elliott-Engel (1/25/47—11/2/2015)
My mother took the next step on her spiritual journey Monday morning, passing away at 3:15 a.m. after a diagnosis with late-stage cancer a brief 32 days ago. My brother, Jeremy Elliott-Engel, husband, Jason Rearick, and I were with her, holding her hands as she passed. As we returned to Mom’s home on a valley hillside after she passed, the sun was rising, mist was gathered on the valley floor and light glimmered on the lake below us. All that light was the love she had for us and the world and the love we and the world still have for her.
Laura Elliott-Engel spent her life taking away the shame for people who have addictions.
Laura herself was the face of recovery because she celebrated 40 years of sobriety from alcoholism in June 2015. Not only did Laura get sober, but she turned her struggle with addiction into a career in helping people beat their own addictions. She helped many, many people get sober themselves as a counselor, as a longtime participant in Alcoholics Anonymous and as one of New York State’s leading recovery advocates.
Laura graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with high honors in 1981 with a Bachelors in Science in Social Work. Her first job as an alcoholism counselor was at the Livingston Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Inc. (LCASA)—where she was recruited—in part because of her own recovery—to work with chemically dependent women isolated in the rural countryside. At LCASA, Laura also developed specialized counseling for couples, families and people who were convicted of multiple DWIs. Laura became the executive director of LCASA in 1991 and served as the organization’s leader until 2002.
Laura earned her Masters of Arts in Theology/Pastoral Counseling from Colgate Rochester Divinity School in 1994. Her Masters thesis was on Grace and Responsibility: Healing of Chemically Dependent Sexually Abused Women.
Then from 2002 to 2015, Laura went on to serve as executive director of Council on Addiction Recovery Services, Inc. (CAReS), which provides counseling, intervention and prevention services to the Cattaraugus County community. The organization expanded its footprint in the county by adding offices in Machias and Gowanda, expanded its homeless housing efforts to include the Solutions to End Homelessness Program with jail-based services, and improving the health of the local community through the Cattaraugus County’s Healthy Livable Communities Consortium.
Laura was active in New York State public policy about recovery from addictions. She was a member of the Council on Addictions of New York State (CANYS) and the Finger Lakes Consortium on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. Laura also was a founding member of Friends of Recovery New York (FOR-NY), a statewide coalition giving a voice to people in recovery from addiction, their families and allies. She served as the group’s president—and essentially as the group’s executive director—from 2009 until shortly before her death. In seven years, the organization grew from an all-volunteer organization to hiring five full-time staff and growing its budget to almost a half million dollars.
Laura was a credentialed counselor for alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling addictions and mental health. Laura also was a certified trainer for recovery coaches who work with people with addictions or in recovery from addiction.
Laura was named a Woman of Distinction for 2002 by the New York State Senate for her contributions to society, and she received the 2009 Good News Award from the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce.
In her youth, Laura was active in the civil rights movement, including as a participant in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participating in civil rights marches.
Laura was born in Rochester, New York, and at various times in her life also lived in Michigan, Springwater, New York, and Cuba, New York. She is predeceased by her parents, Hugh Elliott and Dorothy (Bush) Elliott, and her former father-in-law, Adam Engel. She is survived by her sisters, Carolyn Peevey, of Greece, N.Y., Ruth Wells, of Rochester, N.Y., and Sharon Elliott, of Rochester, N.Y., as well as nieces and nephews, Sandra Weagley, William Rivera, Cindy Ingerick, Hugh Gaspar, Tim Gaspar, Johnie Peevey, Joanne “Wendy” Cymerman, Ryan Reigelsperger and Jill Reid. She also is survived by several great-nieces and great-nephews, cousins, the father of her children and ex-husband, James P. Engel, former mother-in-law Elizabeth (Didas) Engel and dear friends and colleagues.
Join family and friends for a Celebration of Life on Saturday, November 7, 2015, at the Samuel Colgate Memorial Chapel at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 1100 South Goodman Street, Rochester, New York 14620. Guests will be welcomed at 9:30 a.m. with the ceremony to follow shortly thereafter and to be concluded by 11 a.m. A Reception/Calling Hours will be held from 12 p.m.-3 p.m. at 1872 Cafe, 431 W. Main St., Rochester, NY. Her ashes will be interred at a later date at White Haven Cemetery, Pittsford, New York. An event in honor of Laura will be held in Olean, NY, sometime this winter.
Condolences can be sent to 9256 Health Camp Road, Cuba, NY 14727. Contributions in lieu of flowers can be made to Friends of Recovery-New York, 1529 Western Avenue, Albany, NY 12203, for a living memorial to advance Laura Ellliott-Engel’s life’s work in addiction recovery. Contributions in lieu of flowers also can be made to Council on Addiction Recovery Services, Inc. (CAReS), P.O. Box 567, 201 S. Union St., Olean, NY 14760.