Workers Mourn Death of Former Agency Director

Sharlynn Bobo, left, holds an abandoned newborn during her time at the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.
Sharlynn Bobo, left, holds an abandoned newborn during her time at the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By David Betancourt and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The staff at the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency expressed shock yesterday over this weekend's death of Sharlynn Bobo, the former director of the agency who resigned with the organization under siege after some high-profile cases.

Bobo, who was 61, died Saturday at Washington Hospital Center of complications from pancreatic cancer.

She was remarkable among the ranks of city officials for her exotic jewelry, close-cropped hair and regal bearing. Some said she carried herself like a gazelle, head high during the toughest of trials before the D.C. Council, the mayor and the families of abused children.

Her colleagues at CFSA rode an emotional roller coaster based on Bobo's circumstances for the past year.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) fired six social workers after Banita Jacks was found living with the decaying corpses of her four daughters in January, and many questioned why CFSA social workers had not noticed and intervened. Many agency social workers struggled with Bobo's quiet stand on the issue and were furious at Fenty for going over her head with such swift action.

Bobo hosted numerous social workers in her office during those days. The younger ones saw her as a mentor and asked for her guidance during the most difficult times, when social workers were being closely scrutinized and the agency was in turmoil.

An exodus of disgruntled social workers began in January and peaked in the summer after two children in agency care died and Bobo quietly resigned. By early fall, 25 percent of the staff had gone.

Peers said Bobo was devastated by the events of the past year and threw herself into teaching right after her resignation.

Bobo's daughter, Danna Bobo-Johnson, said her mother resigned with a heavy heart, upset over the Jacks case.

"She was beyond upset, as was the whole city," Bobo-Johnson said. "She was equally frustrated with the response of the city government, particularly with how her employees were perceived as a result of the case. She felt, for all the good that social workers in the city were doing, only the bad got out. She was also frustrated with the low morale at the agency after the Jacks case. She wore all of this on her sleeve. You could see it on her and inside of her."

Agency workers fell despondent again after Bobo had pancreatic cancer diagnosed Nov. 11. She was in the hospital almost constantly after her diagnosis, and social workers who visited her were stunned by her rapid deterioration. Over the weekend, members of the child welfare community began to mourn her death.

Dr. Roque Gerald, interim director of CFSA, described Bobo as someone dedicated to the continued improvement of the agency. He said she was instrumental in programs to license foster homes, group homes and independent living.

"She inspired others to live up to high values, as she did," Gerard said. "Sharlynn was a teacher. Each of us learned something worthwhile from her, and we will miss her greatly."

Geo T. Johnson, executive director of the District Council 20 AFSCME, described Bobo as "a straight shooter with great leadership skills."

A District native, Bobo graduated from McKinley High School and received a bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology from George Washington University. She received a master's degree and a doctorate in social work from Howard University.

Bobo's body was donated to Biogift, which does medical research on diseased organs.

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