Social Work, Disabilities Champion Dies at 84

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For Edward Newman, family, helping others and Israel were strong pillars in his life.

Newman died on Aug. 18 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, but leaves behind a legacy of giving back and a strong commitment to family, ethics and the Jewish state.

Much of his professional life was focused on the social services and policy sector. Newman, who belonged to Congregation Adath Jeshurun, retired in 2013 as a professor at Temple University’s School of Social Work in social policy, planning and management.


Among the many highlights of his professional career, a newly elected President Richard Nixon appointed Newman as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the then-Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He oversaw a billion dollar state-federal program helping people with physical and mental disabilities.  

He also worked on President Lyndon Johnson’s administration on the president’s Task Force on the War Against Poverty. He was then invited to serve in the Budget Bureau of the Office of the President to monitor program budgets of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

During the 1960s, Newman developed two federally supported 10-year state plans in Massachusetts, the first to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and the second to help people with disabilities attain employment and independent living.

At Temple, he served from 1974 to 1991 as executive director of the school’s Developmental Disabilities Center (now the Institute on Disabilities).  

“My dad spent most of his life in some kind of service to others,” son Mark Newman said, “whether it was community organizing, whether it was working on behalf of the disabled or teaching at Temple University, students or the Developmental Disabilities Center. His life was about helping other people.”

There was no familial or genetic connection to his dedication to helping those with disabilities, noted his wife of 61 years, Claire Newman. “Social services was related to his wanting to help others,” she said.

In addition to his accomplishments in the social services arena, Newman was a staunch supporter of Israel — he was even able to combine his passion for the two.

“He became very involved in helping to organize American partnerships with social service and disability programs in Israel,” Mark Newman said, “and that’s how he contributed professionally and continued his interest in helping to develop the state of Israel.”

He spent the last six years teaching a mini course for social work students at Sapir College in the Negev and previously chaired the Israel Programs Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, whose recent luncheon with Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog Newman pushed himself to get to, even rescheduling appointments. “That was really important to him,” Claire said.  

He also had an inclination toward athletics. He was a baseball pitcher in college and enjoyed playing tennis and golf. He took up skiing in his 40s and continued into his 70s. He and his wife rode a tandem bicycle into their 80s, as his son recalled going on bike rides as a family.

From his father, Mark Newman learned the importance of family, helping others and living an ethical life.

“Family was very important to him, friends were very important to him, Israel was very important to him,” he said. “He was generous. You could ask for the shirt off his back.”

Newman is survived by his wife, Claire; three children Mark, Julie and Paul; and seven grandchildren. Contributions in his memory may be made to Temple University Edward Rosen Hillel. 

mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740

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