A Great Champion for Young Children and Families

May 27, 2021

Lillian-SugarmanLillian L. Sugarman, who spent most of her life in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, passed away peacefully on April 13, 2021, in Atlanta after a courageous battle with brain cancer. She devoted more than 50 years of her life to the care and development of our nation’s young children and their families and served as a wise mentor to a multitude of early childhood educators. Her supportive professional relationships often became deep personal friendships as Lillian led through respect, kindness, integrity, generosity and a great sense of humor.

Lillian began her career in the mid-1960s as a Head Start teacher and then director of Mt. Moriah Center in Southeast Washington, DC, a program under the National Child Day Care Association. She earned a master’s degree in teaching early childhood from the University of the District of Columbia and an M.S.W. from Virginia Commonwealth University. From the late-1970s on, Lillian held several national leadership positions in the growing early childhood field. As deputy director of the National Child Development Associate Credentialing Program, administered by Bank Street College of Education, she oversaw a nationwide pool of 250 early childhood professionals from 1979 to 1985. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Lillian served as Head Start and Youth program specialist for Region III from 1987 to 1995, before moving to the Child Care Bureau (now Office on Child Care) as a child care specialist, then as director of the Technical Assistance Division from 1995 to 1999. She was instrumental in planning and implementing the federal Early Head Start program and served as assistant director of the Early Head Start National Resource Center at ZERO TO THREE from 1999 to 2004, and as director from 2004 to 2011.

In addition to her dedication to the field of early childhood education, Lillian’s other passion was for people with intellectual disabilities. Inspired by her beloved sister Sally, who had Down syndrome, Lillian served as an active volunteer and then a member of the board of directors at the Mary Campbell Center in Wilmington, DE, Sally’s home until her death in 2007. Lillian’s work with Mary Campbell and her national leadership in the field led to her being appointed as a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2011.

When she retired to Philadelphia, Lillian joined the board of directors of the Maternity Care Coalition, whose mission is to improve the lives of pregnant women and young children. She made frequent trips back to Washington, DC, where she was a consultant for the United Planning Organization, a community action agency that operates 15 Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Lillian was born on December 31, 1941, in Wilmington, Delaware where she spent her childhood. She is survived by her sister, Rae Bellman of Atlanta; her niece, Lisa Klein Fuchs of Wesley Hills, NY; her nephew, Barry Klein, and his wife Rachel of Har Nof, Israel; and 11 great nieces and nephews.


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