Jeff Schaffer, corporate leader in advocating for the employment of people with disabilities, Blenkophile, beloved to his family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, passed away unexpectedly on December 17, 2011, at age 52. Just before he died, he became a member of the Blenko Project board and already was contributing his ideas, suggestions, and time to creating an accurate database of provenance files. Jeff cared very much about the historical integrity of items advertised as Blenko, sometimes correcting online listings that misrepresented them (diplomatically and using his online identity, as a few of you, who are reading this obituary, may have experienced).
Jeff was born and raised in suburban Chicago, son of an architect and teacher. He earned both bachelors and masters degrees at American University in public administration Washington, DC, and settled in the area, where he remained for the rest of his life. He and his wife owned a weekend home in West Virginia, where he first was introduced to Blenko glass.
At the time of his death, Jeff had recently retired as a Principal at the international management-consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton, where he worked for 27 years. In the early years, he managed and led projects for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. On December 31, 1996, Jeff’s life and work focus changed forever: A college student, who was adjusting her car radio, hit Jeff’s truck head-on, coming around a curve on a winding West Virginia mountain highway. After a month in the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit, he fought his way back to work six months later through multiple surgeries and physical therapy, vowing to change corporate culture after being disabled by the accident.
Jeff became a champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and approached his CEO, Ralph Shrader, with the idea of forming a task force and creating and implementing a corporate model for employing people with disabilities. He cited the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities: 'People with disabilities are the nation's largest minority, and the only one that any person can join at any time.' Jeff later served on the President’s Committee during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Jeff was featured in Business Week magazine as the recipient of the 1999 U.S. Industry-Labor Council’s (ILC) National Center for Disability Services’ Manager of the Year award, given to him by Bill Gates, and was one of a handful of Booz Allen employees to receive the firm’s first Visionary Awards, created to recognize individuals whose dedication to diversity manifested itself in concrete and meaningful ways, changing the corporate culture of firm. He received many other awards during his work life in this and other work focus areas, but these were the awards of which he was most proud.
Jeff owned hundreds of pieces of Blenko glass, but was not a collector for financial gain; he truly had a love and appreciation of Blenko glass---especially anything designed by Wayne Husted, and he kept and displayed for pure enjoyment any Blenko glass that he purchased. This became more important to him as the Blenko Glass company and museums experienced financial hardship or even closed. He had the space to store, catalogue, and display—and he did. Jeff also owned prototypes of Wayne Husted’s Olana line, post Olana pieces, catalogues, posters, books, and many of Wayne’s original sketches.
Serendipity brought Wayne and Jeff together online. They soon became trusted friends, speaking regularly on the phone as well as by email. Wayne visited Jeff at his home last year, and after that visit, Wayne designed a triptych of stained glass windows based on the Olana line for the two-story front windows of Jeff’s house, which Jeff commissioned but never saw hanging. He had planned to unveil them at a celebration with Wayne and members of the Blenko collectors’ community in attendance.
Instead of the celebration of the windows and their designer, family and friends from near and far, neighbors, and coworkers gathered at Jeff’s house to celebrate him, taking turns speaking about him amid the light and color of the glass that represented the spirit of Jeff. Wayne contributed a beautiful eulogy that was much appreciated by all.
He will be missed and remembered.
-J.S. (Jeff’s sister)