Rukhsana Rahman

A woman I’ve been influenced by my whole life is named Barbara. She was born right before the depression, and is truly resourceful.  At 94 she can still figure out how to fix most things. She was born with a hair lip. Operations and age eventually made it barely noticeable, but at an early age she determined that she wouldn’t likely marry and would be self-reliant. 

She married my dad and had a son and three daughters.  She taught us to make the most of what we had. My brother was born with severe autism before anyone knew what that was. She and dad noticed his artistic talent and worked with family and friends to expand his horizons. His work is now shown around the world. 

Barbara was a book designer and my dad, Ed, was an architect. They put a down payment on a rental property in Brooklyn to steady their income.  For the family it was all hands on deck managing the property. Mom’s detailed work chart, which she enforced through phone calls from her office, listed the rotating tasks  — sweep/shovel sidewalk, vacuum hallway, clean vestibule, etc.  My mom did the paperwork and minor repairs.  Her children inherited her work ethic.

Another quality of Barbara’s is that she sees diverse people as people. She respects a person who does their best.  At her first job, she was designing a textbook about careers, and was forbidden to represent black people in any profession that wasn’t servile. She moved on from that job. Not having a level playing field always bummed her out.

My mom‘s memory is poor now, but I continue to learn from her.  She started going to the gym 10 years ago, and it clearly makes a difference in her stamina and outlook . I started going to the gym as well.

Emily Knowles-Kellett is a member of the YWCA Board of Directors. 

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