Malcom McCabe

1923 - 2008, Santa Barbara

July, 1923-January, 2008

It was more than 40 years ago that I first met Malcolm McCabe. He supervised a unit at the Santa Barbara Welfare Department (and yes, it was called that) with a style and dignity that drew the best from his workers. He was, above all things, a professional. It was a shock for me, a young and inexperienced worker from Los Angeles County, to encounter him and his very high standards. No sloppy work, no casual clothing, no fudging on hours of duty. He demanded hard work and continual attention to detail, and all of this was focused on our clients. Those clients were our responsibility, and we were to do our utmost to serve them.
I knew nothing about his family or private life, because these were not things generally shared in this environment. However, in time we found many things that we did share, including a love of classical music, good theater and bridge. When I went through a terrible divorce, he became a valuable and unexpected ally and protector, earning my gratitude in addition to my growing respect.
I called him "Mr. McCabe" for many years, even when I was no longer in his unit, and we played bridge together on a social basis. In time, nearly ten years later, this did become "Malcolm" and I remember his surprise the first time I actually gave him a hug, and learned that he really didn't mind my teasing him on occasion. I remember his pleasure when we gave him a "bathroom warming" party for the newly redecorated shower stall with vivid orange tile at his home in the hills above Santa Barbara.
We worked for the "Welfare Department" when it became "Social Services," an ironic change in terminology because fewer services were actually available to the needy. This was an era of great change in California, an era when the state emptied the mental hospitals, dismantled supports for the mentally ill, and dumped those very ill on the streets. It was an era during which the traditional system for delivering financial aid changed drastically, and most of those in need were assigned to semi-clerical "eligibility" workers. The old system of establishing ongoing relationships with welfare clients was removed, and social workers only saw clients when they were acutely in need of help-often in crisis situations that might once have been avoided. Malcolm McCabe was one of those who worked hard to adapt to these changes in his agency, and attempted to bring education and professionalism to the new "Department of Public Social Services."
So many years later, I still know next to nothing about his private life, and regret that I lost touch with him during his final years. He will always have a special place in my heart.
Recently, I read that the State of Florida was going to put GPS devices in cars to make certain that their Social Workers were actually doing their work because they found that some of them were lying about making home calls and other vital activities. For some reason, this made me think of Mr. McCabe and his devotion to and demands on behalf of the profession of Social Work. The world is a poorer place without him.

By Penny Bloodhart

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