Remembering Frances Cerullo, the Wind Beneath CERC’s Wings
On October 27, the College of Medicine and Montefiore learned they had lost of one of their most loyal and devoted employees, Frances Cerullo. In an email informing colleagues at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) of Fran’s death, it was noted that she had been at CERC just two days before—even though she had reluctantly retired in late 2019, at age 86. She was 87 at the time of her passing.
Fran joined CERC in 1976, as a volunteer, and went on the payroll in 1977. She was a psychoeducation specialist whose work with children who had reading and behavioral problems spanned nearly 45 years.
She helped thousands of children in the Bronx, co-directing CERC’s School-Age Unit’s Psychoeducational Treatment Program, setting up an innovative reading program. Many staff and faculty members, including deans, sought Fran’s expertise for their children or grandchildren.
“Fran’s contributions to our field were immense,” said Herbert Cohen, M.D., director emeritus of CERC. “She created and led the large training program we had for professionals in psychoeducational treatment. Generations of practicing professionals and trainees in both special education and psychology learned their craft from Fran. She taught them the ins and outs of providing critical interventions for helping learning disabled children.”
He added, “In my 60 years as a professional, I have never worked with a kinder, nicer, and finer person than Fran."
Masterful Mentor, Compassionate Colleague and Friend
“Fran was the soul of CERC,” said Ruth Gottesman, Ed.D., a longtime colleague with whom Fran developed the Einstein Evaluation of School-Related Skills in 1988. The duo updated this major contribution to the field and invaluable assessment tool in 2017; it is used in hospital clinics and private pediatric practices nationally to determine whether a child’s academic skills are at grade level and to identify which areas are likely challenges in need of more evaluation.
Dr. Gottesman continued, “Beyond providing professional expertise, Fran had the ability to boost the psychological well-being of everyone in the clinic, no matter who they were. She would listen endlessly and sympathetically, and when asked would give sound advice.”
Colleagues welcomed her knowledge and support, especially in navigating difficult situations.
Lisa Shulman, M.D., interim director of CERC, observed. “It can often be hard for parents to accept the assessments, diagnoses, or recommendations that we may make for one’s child. And sometimes that can lead to doubts of your own.”
She recalled a case from early in her career when she was still a fellow in neurodevelopment. “The definitions of autism weren’t yet what they are today, yet I sensed that the boy our team was evaluating had mild autism. Fran encouraged me to make my case to the parents. She had faith in my clinical judgment even before I did.”
Dr. Shulman continued, “Even when the parents weren’t able to accept the assessment, Fran reassured me that a certain number of diagnoses blow up and only time will tell. The boy’s chart resurfaced 20 years later, when the now young man was seeking assistance for mild autism, and I went to tell Fran. She said, ‘So, they came back? What did you expect—they got the diagnosis from CERC’s expert in autism, even way back then.’“
Lisa concluded, “That was Fran; she mentored and ‘professionally parented’ us to become the professionals we were striving to become, supporting us with just what we needed at each stage along the way.”
Another colleague, Lydia Soifer, Ph.D., shared a similar experience following a difficult exchange with parents, when Fran taught her a refrain she now teaches her own students. “She gently and supportively reminded me ‘He’s not my child. I’ve done all I can as a professional but she’s not my child.’ It was such an incredible lesson on so many levels, and invaluable. And that was Fran’s way.”
Mary Kelly, Ph.D., director of academic support and counseling at Einstein and former director of CERC’s adult literacy program agreed, noting, “Fran was the kind of person who made everyone feel special. She was devoted to the children and families served by CERC, and worked tirelessly to ensure that each child had the support needed to flourish. She provided sensitive supervision and leadership to countless tutors and teachers.”
Other colleagues echoed these sentiments with terms like “role model for us all,” “loving,” “caring,” and “great mentor.” Ozzie Purugganan, M.D. summed up these superlatives, noting, “Fran was like our mother/favorite aunt here at CERC, a great mentor and friend.”
A Legacy of Excellence and Love
Fran leaves behind generations of trainees and colleagues, children and families, and a legacy of accomplishments that continue to serve them all. From the lessons that she taught young fellows, tutors, teachers, and psychologists, to the programs and tools she developed and implemented, to the kind words and timely advice offered with care, to the friendships forged and generous spirit shared.
“Fran’s mission in life was to love openhandedly,” recalled colleague Ida Barresi, a senior speech-language pathologist at CERC. “Her generosity wasn’t something she merely did but encompassed who she was… She didn’t just invite others to her home; she invited them to be present in her life…When I finally took up her offer to visit her home in Maine, we pulled up amidst darkness following a five-hour drive to find this little cottage beaming as bright as the sun to welcome us. That warm glow of light truly represented Fran’s thoughtfulness, kindness, and unselfishness. And, just as the light illuminated the whole house, Fran’s generosity of spirit and all its manifestations will forever pervade every aspect of our lives.”
Fran D’Aloia was born on December 1, 1933, and grew up in the Bronx and Mount Vernon, NY. She earned her bachelor's degree in education from Hunter College in 1955, and married Nick Cerullo, her husband of nearly 65 years, in 1957. She later received a master's degree in special education from Manhattanville College. She and Nick raised their three children, Lisa, Jonathan, and Lori Ann in Mount Vernon and Armonk, NY. Fran enjoyed spending time with her grand-daughter Gabrielle.
Never without a smile and a kind word, Fran Cerullo will be dearly missed by all those whose lives she touched. Our condolences to her entire family. The funeral service takes place on Thursday, November 4. For further details, visit https://www.cassidyflynnfuneralhome.com/calendar.
If you would like to leave a memory of Fran Cerullo, or a condolence message, please visit her Remembrance page.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 03, 2021