FRAMINGHAM – The City of Framingham has lost one of its leaders and its biggest advocate for the disabled. Karen Foran Dempsey, 54, died on Christmas Eve.
Dempsey was the founder of the Framingham Disability Commission, and was elected in 2019 to serve on the 9-member Framingham School Committee. Dempsey represented District 2, the neighborhood where her sons attended Stapleton Elementary and then Cameron Middle School. It was the neighborhood she grew up in.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a child, Foran used a motorized scooter to get around the community, and was a passionate champion for those with disabilities. In 2002, she co-founded the Framingham Disability Commission.
Dempsey leaves her husband Mark, and her twin sons Joseph & William.
She also leaves her mom Anne, her brother Ed, her twin sister Kathy Foran, a well-known Realtor, and her sister Janet Leombruno, who was elected to the 11-member City Council in 2019.
The two sisters were both on the City ballot in 2019, and both won.
Leombruno announced her sister’s death today. Christmas Day, on social media.
“Last night we lost my sister Karen, it was sudden and unexpected and we are all heartbroken. She leaves behind a world that loved her, one she spent her life making better. Her life was wasn’t the easiest, but you would never ever know it. We want to say thanks to the First Responders for everything they did, and for the huge outpouring of love. She’s flying high with angels now, and free of pain forever,” wrote Leombruno.
“I am so deeply saddened and stunned by Karen’s passing and the void this will leave in so many of the lives she touched,” said Dr. Robert Kalish. “I was honored to be just the second of two rheumatologists to care for her arthritis that she lived with her entire life following the late Dr. Raymond Patridge, a beloved Boston-area rheumatologist who had cared for her since she was a child.”
“Karen was the rare individual who fought beyond her own personal challenges on a daily basis, to devote boundless energy to improving the community. She was someone who truly made a difference in the lives of others, she spoke through actions, not words,” said City Council Chair George King Jr.
“Framingham’s disability community lost its brightest star and fearless advocate. The City as a whole lost a great leader, who truly leaves a legacy of creating opportunities and knocking down barriers for so many,” said King.
“My heart breaks for the Dempsey family and for everyone whose lives have been touched by their kindness and advocacy,” said Superintendent of School Bob Tremblay. “This sudden loss in our community at this time of holiday celebration makes Karen’s Passing all the more profound. I offer my sincerest condolences on behalf of the Framingham Public School community.”
“Lets all take a moment and reflect the great passion and dedication that Karen had for advocating for people with disabilities and will truly be missed,” said Disability Commission Chair and close family Friend Ricky Finlay.
“Karen was a tireless advocate for the disability community and for the children of Framingham. The people of Framingham have lost a very special leader, who made a difference in the lives of all that she had touched and the lives of so many others that never had the opportunity to personally meet her,” said District 6 City Council Phil Ottaviani Jr., who has been friends with Karen for decades. “Framingham and all its residents are far better off today because of Karen and all that she accomplished. My sincerest condolences to her family.”
“Framingham has lost a true champion and a voice of the disability community,” said close friend Paul Spooner.
Spooner is the executive Director of the MetroWest Center for Independent Living, and has known Dempsey since the early 1990s. Dempsey worked at the Center, joined its board, and was even chair of the Board. It was at the Center, that Karen met her husband Mark, said Spooner.
“The most remarkable about Karen is she lived and breathed the independent living – the right to make her decisions and live in the community of choice,” said Spooner.
“Karen was a true disabilities rights advocate. She lived and breathed it every day,” said Spooner.
“A person with disabilities has a very complex life. Karen had significant disability issues and yet she did not let them to determine her life. She was a wife, a mother, and a champion for so many,” said Spooner.
“Karen was one of the leading advocates for the disability Commission in Framingham and in MetroWest,” said Spooner. “She accomplished more for people in Framingham than anyone I know.”
Rose Quinn, who served on the Disability Commission for years with Foran, said she was devastated by the news.
“I just can not imagine that ball of energy being stilled,” said Quinn, who has served on the Commission since 2008.
“She was unique. I admire her grit and her determination,” said Quinn. “My dear friend and her voice will be missed in this community.”
“Karen was more than a fellow commissioner and mentor to me, she was a friend,” said Sheryl Goldstein. “I learned a great deal from Karen about resilience and spirit living with a disability. I forever miss working alongside her, she was a true advocate for the community.”
“Karen was an advocate and leader. A true professional who helped her community by making many positive changes in her years serving in appointed and elected roles,” said School Committee Chair Adam Freudberg, who serves District 4.
“She really honed in on those who needed assistance such as special education families and the disability community. She gave them a voice and acted for them in everything she did,” said Freudberg. “Her sudden loss hits real hard and is a tough reminder about how you can never take anyone’s presence for granted. She was a member of our School Committee family and will be missed a great deal. We are grieving alongside her husband Mark, twin sons, mom, siblings, family, and friends.”
“I am saddened at the unexpected loss of my friend and colleague. Karen was a fierce, long-time advocate for her family, friends, and many in our community. This is a tremendous loss. My heart goes out to her family and friends,” said Framingham School Committee Vice Chair Tiffanie Maskell.
“Her passion and desire to advocate for people with disabilities was amazing,” said Finlay. Karen found a way to try to help everyone. She was determined. She never gave up. She was always passionate. She worked hard to change things.”
Dempsey fought for disability access at the Framingham Libraries and advocated for the new bookmobile to have a lift for all to use.
Dempsey fought hard and a very long time to make Historic Village Hall accessible to all. In 2009, she complained that she was left out due to access issue, and continued to advocate for a decade, until the historic hall became accessible in 2019.
“She was relentless with the Village Hall issue. She was never going to give up on that project,” said Quinn.
“Karen had a quiet but persistent manner,” said Spooner. “But she expected results. Village Hall showed her determination. She would not let that go. She fought until changes were completed.”
“There should be a statue in her honor,” said Spooner. “Few people can match up to Karen’s level of intensity and commitment.”
Dempsey was still fighting for disability rights in 2020.
“Disability is often left out when speaking about diversity in Framingham. If Framingham wants to be a truly welcoming and inclusive community for all, they will think of, and include, people with Disabilities,” said Dempsey in an op-ed to the SOURCE in January.
She wanted communication from the City to be captioned. She was fighting for an ADA audit. She wanted the City’s ADA coordinator to do more and respond more quickly to complaints.
Dempsey, with the Disability Commission brought the City’s first adaptive skating program to the community in 2019. Dempsey went out on the ice at Loring Arena with the program. She said it was the first time she was ever on the ice.
Dempsey and the Disability Commission also worked with SMILES Mass in Sudbury for the city’s first accessible beach chair in 2019.
“So many things would never have happened in Framingham without Karen,” said the director of the MetroWest Center for Independent Living.
A year early, Dempsey pushed for handicapped-accessible seating in front of the Memorial Building. She had said repeatedly she was tired of excuses when it came to the disability community.
“it is no longer okay or acceptable for our City Officials and Leaders to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t even think about it’ or ‘I didn’t do it intentionally’ or ‘I didn’t mean anything by it’ These phrases are continually used as excuses and therefore possibly deny inclusion for people with Disabilities,” wrote Dempsey in early 2020.
Elected to Town Meeting in 2001, Dempsey served as a Precinct representative until the form of government changed on January 1, 2018.
She volunteered for various organizations including the Arthritis Foundation NE Chapter), the MetroWest Center for Independent Living, West Suburban Chapter Mass. Mothers of Twins Association, and several others. Dempsey became a Framingham Elk in 2018.
“Karen did not let a disease that so greatly affected the use of her joints and often caused her pain, stop her from living life to its fullest, finding joy and generosity where ever she could, meeting and marrying her life partner mark, and miraculously sailing through a twin pregnancy that brought her beloved Joseph and William into the world, who not only gave her endless pride and joy and whom I would hear about at each of her appointments, but who were also clearly the stars when Karen brought them in as toddlers as she shared with an entire Tufts medical school class, as she did each year for many years, her experience living life with arthritis. There is no doubt the boys stole the show as they climbed from one student’s lap to the next as the session proceeded,” said Dr. Kalish.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news of Karen’s passing. My heart goes out to her whole family, especially her sons who she spoke of so lovingly. This news is simply heart-breaking. Being among the new members elected to the school committee, Karen and I were fast friends. We instantly bonded – we were both excited to take on our new job yet had so many questions. I enjoyed our many phone calls and conversations. I remember anytime we would talk on the phone, we would stay on for hours just gabbing,” said District 8 School Committee member Jessica Barnhill. “She was always positive and it was just so comfortable chatting with her about anything and everything. Karen was a joy to know and to be around. Karen leaves behind her legacy of advocacy. She fought for so many and cared so deeply for others. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her and work with her on the Framingham School Committee. The world is a better place because of her. Framingham is a better place. She will be missed. May she rest in peace.”
“Karen will be missed so dearly by all who knew her and whom she touched,” said Dr. Kalish. “But I know that she has left behind a generation of young physicians who I am sure will use the lessons learned from her to benefit countless patients into the future. May her passion for helping others be an example we all try to follow and may her memory be a blessing to us all.”
“It is so easy to talk about what a powerful and impactful life she had in her own community,” said Spooner. “I’m trying to balance my feeling of sorrow and the loss of my dear friend while at the same time celebrating the incredible life she led and the life she made better for so many other people.”
Services are not available at this time. The news outlet will post the obituary when available.
Editor’s Note: This report has been updated several times with quotes from individuals about Karen Foran Dempsey since December 25. Individuals may email quote to SOURCE at editor@Framinghamsource,com.