Social Work Profession Mourns Loss of Dr. Elizabeth J. Clark, Former NASW CEO

BetsyClark2015Headshot2The social work community was saddened to learn this weekend of the passing of former NASW CEO, Elizabeth “Betsy” J. Clark, PhD, MPH, ACSW.  She died on May 23 at her home in New York.

During her 12-year tenure at the National Association of Social Workers (2001-2013), Dr. Clark led numerous initiatives that increased public support for the profession and social workers, in the U.S. and globally.  Her extensive experience in cancer advocacy also expanded NASW’s work in health care policy.  She was elected an NASW Social Work Pioneer® in 2015.

NASW extends its deepest sympathies to Betsy’s family and all who knew her well.

Additional Information:


  1. Antoinette Joyce

    I am shocked and saddened to read about Dr.
    Elizabeth “Betsy” Clark’s passing. Betsy and I met during her tenure as CEO for the National Association of Social Workers and I served as Executive Director of NASW, Kentucky chapter.

    She had the extraordinary ability to effectively relate and communicate with people from all walks of life. Betsy came to Kentucky to participate in Social Work Day at the state capitol and was the featured keynote speaker for the event. She was fabulous, holding her audience in complete awe of her genuine commitment and compassion for social justice.

    A bright light has dimmed. My life and our world is far better because of the enormous impact her influence made, and I am forever grateful. Rest in Peace, Betsy.

  2. Katharine Briar-Lawson

    The news of such a profound loss of Betsy has wrenchingly further brought to the fore the tragic times in which we live. I have treasured my times with Betsy, a leader of NASW in NYS and with our National NASW. As a visionary, leader and educator she promoted hope. One of her last major publications was about Hope and the role of social work. I keep in my heart and mind her wisdom and re-imagining work to cast social work in effective leadership roles at home and across the world. Her pivotal work in areas like SWAN ( Social Workers Across Nations) positioned social work to be more than a remedial resource in crises and instead to address root causes.Her visions could never be more timely than now. She will forever live in our hearts as a gifted, pioneering leader, taken from us far too early. Her legacy is deep and wide. We are united in grief over her passing as we honor her legacy by being mindful of her constructive visions and practices.

  3. I was so saddened to hear about the loss of Betsy. She will always be remembered for her exceptional leadership and contributions to NASW and the social work profession. She was always so personable and accessible. Condolences and prayers for her family.

  4. With genuine sorrow about the passing of a true leader in the social work profession.

  5. So sorry to say goodbye. What a lady of strength and energy, kindness, success… Her influence carries on, continuing the work that must be done. Thanks for such creative leadership. Betsy, you will live by this light –

  6. This is such devasting news for me about someone so influential and bigger than life in so many ways. Betsy and I came to NASW leadership together as we entered the 21st century -she as CEO and me as President. We were known by many affectionately as the “dynamic duo” through 9-11 and all its aftermath. We brought together 43 national social work organizations for the first “Summit” which was memorable also for the record snow storm that fell on DC that Dec. 2002. Betsy was one of the few leaders I knew who was both visionary and practical at the same time. We worked internationally as well with IFSW and wrote together about our wonderful profession. We became more than colleagues over the years. We became friends and confidants. Sadly our annual meetings at CSWE or NASW became fewer these last years. She is such a loss to the social work community and to the hundreds of thousands of people she touched over all her years. Her death, prematurely by my standards, is a sad reminder not to take people you care about for granted. You never know. She may have been the person who devised one social work slogan that comes to mind so poignantly (pardon me if someone else invented it, but i know she promoted it) “Life can turn on a dime. When that happens, social work is there!” (or something similar).
    Rest in peace Betsy

    • Barbara Middleton

      Thank you for your lovely remembrance.
      Barb Middleton,ACSW- Boulder, CO.( formerly Dallas)

  7. So sorry to rear about Betsy’s passing.
    Her counsel and friendship will be immensely missed.

    Jose Santoro
    CMSA National Treasurer (2017 – 2020)
    CMSA NYC Chapter Past President

  8. Deirdre Spelman

    How sad I was to read of Betsy’s death. She and I went way back to our caseworker days just out of college. Many , many years later we reconnected at her interview for New York State Chapter of NASW. She was the successful candidate and I enjoyed working with her when I was on the Board. She was an innovate leader. As President of NASW she g
    Brought the voice of social workers to the fore front. She is Truely a Social Work pioneer. I always was energized after speaking with her. Rest In Peace Betsy. The world is a better place because you were in it.

  9. Kathryn Conley Wehrmann

    I join the many who are mourning the loss of Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Clark. While I did not have the experience of working closely with her as many staff members at the NASW National office staff did along with the chapter executive directors throughout the country, I was lucky to have had some significant encounters with her that I will always remember. One was a brisk and blustery walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago as we were walking from a CSWE conference to the NASW Illinois Chapter office. It was during the time that I was serving as chapter president and we were welcoming Betsy to one of our meetings. I can say for sure that during that fifteen-minute walk I got more than acquainted with her—I also got very inspired about the power of our professional organization. I will never forget her assertion that every school of social work should have Social Work Speaks as a required text—what a powerful link between students and NASW’s work in the policy advocacy arena. There were other moments of connection over the years but the most recent and most poignant for me occurred a few weeks back in mid-April.

    I was working a chapter for the new edition Social Worker’s Desk Reference on emerging fields of practice. I reviewed the 2015 edition and found that Betsy had written a chapter entitled, What Changes and What Remains in a Practice Profession. After reading it over, I knew that I needed to talk with her about her current perspective and get her insights on what she sees ahead. Our discussion was less about emerging fields and more about recapturing who we are as social workers and as a profession. Her concern, as I review my notes, centered around losing our core professional identity and that we may becoming more about “function” and less about identifying ourselves as professional social workers with a particular skill and knowledge set that can be brought to bear in a variety of settings. We spent an hour or so taking about the future of social work. My reflection is that the chapter she wrote is as relevant today as it was when she wrote it and I encourage all to revisit it.

    Before we ended out call, we touched on a few other topics including some of her writing, including her book, Choose Hope. I had not read it and she graciously offered to send me a copy. It is a thoughtful study of the value and need to hold on to hope—certainly in our profession which she called, “the profession of hope.” I am grateful for that last conversation and will end here with a quote she used to introduce one of the book’s chapters: “Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is as indispensable, none so powerful as hope” –Charles Sawyer. Godspeed, Dr, Clark.

  10. Wilma Peebles-Wilkins

    With deepest sympathy, Wilma Peebles-Wilkins, Professor and Dean Emerita, Boston University

  11. I an stunned by the loss of this amazing leader!

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