by Justin Berg
Attorney Richard Gold, 61, a resident of Mt. Airy for 35 years, has been chosen to receive the “Righteous Person Award” from Tikvah/AJMI Advocates for the Jewish Mentally Ill, a grassroots non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for adults with mental illness. They will honor Gold during their 22nd Annual Brunch on Sunday, Nov. 9, 11 a.m., at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.
Helene Steinberg, Executive Director of Tikvah/AJMI, explained her organization’s decision to honor Gold: “Richard Gold has been a dedicated advocate for people with mental health issues for decades, working to enlighten the public and help people with disabilities live in the community with dignity and independence. He has made a difference in so many lives, all across our state, that it is our pleasure and privilege to honor him with the Tikvah/AJMI 2014 Righteous Person Award.”
“I felt humbled at being asked to be the awardee,” Gold told us last week. “There are so many people who do things anonymously and for no recognition, who live righteous lives for their own and for others. If I can for a short period of time represent them, then that is a very humbling experience.”
Gold grew up in the city’s Kensington neighborhood. Early on, his parents preached tolerance and understanding and “never really looked at what the next person had in order to envy them, but rather looked at the blessings we had, and thinking about the people who did not have them.”
While attending Central High School (229th graduating class), Gold fed his voracious appetite for literature with the novels of, among others, social critic and proponent of urban reform, Charles Dickens. “When it wasn’t cool to like to read Dickens, being in an all-boys school, there was all this complaining,” Gold recalled. “I would join with the complaining because I wanted to fit in, but I would read the book two or three times!”
From a very young age, Gold knew he wanted to enter public service. “When other kids said they wanted to be an astronaut, I said I wanted to be the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. There was always that desire to help others.”
Gold built on that desire at Temple University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1974 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. He then attended University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating in 1978. At Penn, Gold knew he wanted to pursue public interest law, and after graduating went to work for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
Gold says he “learned to become a lawyer in Philadelphia family courts. If you were able to control a court room in family court, then you could go to any court in the land because every court is a lot less chaotic than Philadelphia family court was.
“In retrospect, it sounds like a TV show, but I remember times when you’d be arguing, and the judge would turn his chair around and take a phone call. People would be walking in front of you, yelling, and the next case [would start] before you finished your case. Family court was never viewed at that point as being a place where you crafted your skills, but I viewed it as the Supreme Court, and I prepared and got sick the night before every hearing, every trial!”
During that era, Gold and some of his colleagues brought a few lawsuits against the government in the area of child abuse, which gained the attention of Allen Davis, then-Philadelphia City Solicitor. Gold took up Davis’ offer to join the City Solicitor’s office, and from 1981-1990 he began to fight for social change within government instead of from outside.
At the Solicitor’s Office, Gold continued to focus on child welfare but also broadened his interests into the areas of mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness. “The word “homelessness” was sort of created in the ‘80s,” Gold said. “The ‘80s were also the beginning of the crack epidemic, as well as AIDS. As counsel to the Health and Human Services Department, I was involved with all of those things and was exhausted at the end of every day because there was so much to do that I didn’t get a chance to do that day.”
In the nine years he spent at the Solicitor’s office, Gold brought several lawsuits that helped improve Philadelphia’s treatment of the mentally ill. “I am very proud that during my time society closed a number of the institutions that were housing people with mental illness. I helped the city to make sure that we were prepared to provide previously institutionalized people with housing and services similar to, or as similar as possible to persons without mental illness.”
Gold started his own law firm in 1992 and until 2007 represented non-profit community providers of health and human services. Then Gold came close to fulfilling his childhood dream of working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when Secretary Estelle Richman (a previous recipient of Tikvah’s Righteous Person Award) hired him as deputy secretary for the Office of Children, Youth and Families of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
While working there, Gold helped to decrease the number of children in placement out-of-state by over 75% and decreased the overall number of children by 29% in out-of-home care, among other achievements.
“For four years I probably enjoyed myself more than ever in my work career,” said Gold. “It was a system that had more problems than could be solved, and I’m really proud that almost four years later a lot of the changes have stayed in effect.”
More information or reservations about the award brunch at 215-832-0671.