Joel David "Jody" Myerberg, who as head of the Maryland Disabilities Forum worked to safeguard the rights of disabled Marylanders, died Monday at Sinai Hospital of complications from a stroke. The Pikesville resident was 62.
"For almost 40 years, Joel Myerberg had been an important and powerful advocate for Marylanders with disabilities. His knowledge and insight were sought by governors, mayors, elected officials and individuals working to promote the rights and empowerment of people with disabilities so that they may lead productive, meaningful and independent lives," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement yesterday.
He added that Mr. Myerberg's legacy could be found in his own words: "The key to my life is organization and perseverance, never taking no for an answer."
Mr. Myerberg was born in Baltimore and raised on Bareva Road in Northwest Baltimore and later Pikesville.
After graduating from City College in 1963, he began his college studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
After he returned home in December of his junior year, family members noticed that he was limping and dragging his left leg. Doctors diagnosed multiple sclerosis, and by the summer, he was no longer able to walk. By the time he earned separate degrees in political science and social work, he was paralyzed from the chest down.
His physical condition caused Mr. Myerberg to abandon plans to study law. After leaving College Park, he lived at Montebello State Hospital for two years while undergoing rehabilitation.
In 1970, he moved back to his family's Pikesville home and began serving as a social worker but had to stop because of the severity of his illness. He remained at home for several years until moving to the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital, where he spent his time reading.
In 1981, Mr. Myerberg moved to the Franklin Apartments at Franklin and Eutaw streets, a downtown Baltimore facility that helped people with disabilities live independently.
One of 76 residents, Mr. Myerberg told The Sun in a 2001 interview that he was "the only white, only Jewish, only college-educated person there. The only thing I had in common with them was that I was a low-income person and disabled."
To ward off the depression that swept over him at times, Mr. Myerberg attended as many as three meetings a day at the facility, worked on issues and laws affecting the disabled, and joined its board.
"I was at the lowest in my life when I went in there, but by the time I moved out in 1991, I had developed a whole new attitude about myself," he said.
Since 1991, he had lived in an apartment on Seven Mile Lane that was outfitted with a specially designed telephone, from which he normally made about 100 calls a day. He could control a computer with his mouth, connecting him with the Internet.
In 1994, Mr. Myerberg established the Maryland Disabilities Forum, a statewide advocacy group that embraces 218 agencies and represents 200,000 people. Five years later, he founded the Independent Living Foundation.
"He spoke to mayors, governors as well as the state legislature and U.S. Congress," said Dr. Larry Bank, a Baltimore dentist who was a friend from nursery school days and later Mr. Myerberg's college roommate.
"I remember Ben Cardin telling a congressional committee before Jody showed up to testify, 'If you don't do what he wants you to do, he'll never leave you alone,'" Dr. Bank said with a laugh.
Kathy S. Epstein, Mr. Myerberg's sister, lives in Reisterstown. "Through his advocacy, he was able to climb mountains without being able to climb them," Mrs. Epstein said.
Another brother, Neal P. Myerberg, who lives in Old Greenwich, Conn., shared her view. "He never stopped his advocacy until he got what he wanted. He was extraordinary. I never heard him once ever say he'd been dealt a bad deck," Mr. Myerberg said. "His cause became independent living and all you needed to achieve it."
An acquaintance stopped Neal Myerberg at the hospital after his brother had died and said, "Your brother knew how to smile at life. It was his way of saying, 'I'm still here.' "
Mr. Myerberg was a member of Beth El Congregation, 8101 Park Heights Ave., where services will be held at 2:30 p.m. today.
Also surviving are another brother, Roger J. Myerberg of Drayden; and many nieces and nephews.