The Tracy Coughlin Scholarship was established in 1998 in memory of Tracy, the daughter of Thomas and Joan Coughlin. In 2001, after the death of Thomas Coughlin, the scholarship was changed by the Jefferson Rehabilitation Board to include Thomas’s name. The purpose of the scholarship is to assist a second year student majoring in human services who shows an interest in developmental disabilities and that demonstrates the qualities and attributes to succeed in this field.
Thomas A. Coughlin was born in Brooklyn, NY on February 12, 1948. He spent his childhood in Brooklyn, graduating from Middlewood High School. He served eight years in the Air Force before receiving his degree from Goddard College in Vermont. The Air Force assigned him to the Dry Hill duty station in Watertown where he met his wife and raised three daughters. He also attended Syracuse University Law School before becoming a NYS Trooper from 1962-1968. In 1964 he became the executive director of the Jefferson County Association for Retarded Children. By 1975, a new facility was being built in Watertown serving more than 600 disabled people. That same year he was asked to join New York State’s Office of Mental Health. He ended up becoming Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene and spent 19 years of his career in this position. In 1978 he also became the first Commissioner of the Office of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities. Mr. Coughlin opened and provided 400 new residences for the mentally disabled. The next year he was asked to oversee the NYS prison system as the Commissioner of Corrections from which he retired in 1994.
He became the first Executive Director of the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center because of his involvement in the movement of deinstitutionalization. Thomas Coughlin was one of the founders of the Jefferson Chapter of NYSARC (Jefferson Rehabilitation Center). Tracy, his daughter, was developmentally disabled and had lived in a NYS institutional setting before being placed in the community. Her birth in 1961 changed Thomas’s life path. Thomas was instrumental in improving the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities though his work in establishing the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center and beyond.
Thomas Coughlin passed away in 2001. Although his initial involvement was based on his daughter, he fought the battles and pushed hard for significant changes for all people with disabilities. His impact on the field was huge and his work is responsible for many legislative changes that pushed for deinstitutionalization and getting people with disabilities back into the communities that they called home. He also carried this passion in his role of overseeing the prison system and believed in “habilitation not rehabilitation”.
Thomas Coughlin was a leader in New York State. He made significant changes to how people with disabilities are treated and was an innovator and changed lives.
Jefferson Community College is thankful for the Coughlin family for establishing this scholarship and honored to be able to share Thomas and Tracy’s legacy with its students.
Source: NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision