Annual Jefferson honoree turns tragedy into activism
Once the shock passed and the tears dried, Patricia Rizzi decided something good would come from unspeakable tragedy.
After enduring the death of her daughter in 2000, Rizzi decided to focus on doing her best to ensure other mothers would not
experience the same type of pain.
For her efforts against domestic violence, Rizzi was named UT's second annual Jefferson Awards "Champion" honoree during a
Feb. 15 luncheon at Libbey Hall. The event recognized 12 Jefferson Award winners selected from January through December 2009.
Rizzi, who has worked on the Health Science Campus for more than 25 years, was UT's third honoree in 2009.
"We salute all of our Jefferson Award Champions for their dedication to serving others," said Lawrence Burns, vice president
for external affairs and UT's Jefferson Awards program chairman. "It's been a wealth of riches, trying to select a Champion
each month. That's how outstanding our nominations have been."
Rizzi's nomination, however, had the committee that selected the annual honoree spellbound.
Inthe late 1990s, Rizzi's daughter, Michelle Rizzi Salerno, a graduate student at Michigan State University, became entangled
in an abusive marriage. After Michelle's murder, Rizzi found herself at a spiritual crossroads.
"You drift around, wondering what to do," she said. "You can either wallow in self-pity of try to make a difference."
She chose the latter, driven by the memory of the daughter she'd lost. Beginning in her own backyard, Pat spearheaded efforts
to enhance the University of Toledo Medical Center's policies regarding domestic violence, promoting better awareness of abuse
and ensuring victim resources are readily available in treatment areas.
A member of the Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force, Rizzi often recounts her daughter's story during public awareness
events, such as Take Back the Night and Silent Witness.
Silent Witness is particularly moving, as life-sized silhouettes create solemn displays to commemorate victims. The figure
for Michelle Rizzi Salerno was northwest Ohio's first silent witness.
"Pat Rizzi is an inspiration for all of us," Burns said. "Her activism comes from a desire to make a difference in the lives
AsUT's annual honoree, Rizzi has the opportunity to attend a national Jefferson Awards seminar this June in Washington, D.C.
Greg Moore, national director of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, was on-hand to congratulate Rizzi during the luncheon.
Rizzi accepted the honor from Stinehart, last year's annual honoree.