CEA’s Deb Fallin retires after 30 years

Praised for her work in advocating for public education

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Followers of public education in the state, including legislators, lobbyists, reporters, teachers union members, education professionals, elected officials and myriad others, will miss the contact and trusting relationships they’ve established over the years with one of the longtime staff members of the Colorado Education Association. Deborah Fallin, the genial and responsive public education advocate and spokesperson for the organization for the last 30 years, officially retired this week.

Beverly Ingle, left, president of the Colorado Education Association, lauds Deborah Fallin for convincing members years ago to start a public relations program at CEA. “Our organization would not be what it is today,” Ingle said, wthout Fallin’s numerous contributions.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Jeanne Beyer, right, director of communications for CEA, reminisces about working side by side with Fallin during their 28 years together at the organization.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Deborah Fallin and her good friend Ann Williams share some of their experiences when they worked together at CEA on behalf of public education.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Retiring CEA spokesperson Deborah Fallin holds up an envelope containing a gift card presented to her by CEA Executive Director Tony Salazar and the entire organization.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Deborah Fallin and her visiting brother laugh about some of the more fun times they have shared in the past.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

At a retirement party at the CEA building kittycorner from the state Capitol a couple weeks ago, Fallin described her past three decades at CEA as amazing. “I worked with such a wonderful organization and I’m proud of what I’ve done,” Fallin told several dozen friends and co-workers. And that included, she said, what she called the good, the bad and the ugly, with Senate Bill 191 — the teacher tenure bill that was approved by the Legislature despite staunch opposition by the CEA — being in the last category.

In fact, Fallin said, some people have asked her whether she was retiring because of the passage of SB 191. She has assured them that it really wasn’t the reason.

“If I had retired about some of those things it would have been about 25 years ago,” Fallin said with a laugh.

She explained, with a sense of humor that has been a trademark, that she had just returned from Maine where she was enjoying some well deserved time off. “I read books and drank wine and ate lobster and the second day back in the office, the Race to the Top finalists were announced,” Fallin recalled. Colorado was not chosen to receive the competitive federal education grants for the second time this year and Fallin was beseiged with press calls.

“And the phones started ringing, and ringing, and that day was the day I opened my calendar and picked my retirement day,” Fallin confessed

“I don’t want to do this again, I don’t want to get revved up into this again, and I don’t have to!’ she told herself. “I was very proud to represent the profession and organization, but I am done!”

Tony Salazar, executive director of CEA, said the occasion marked a true celebration of Fallin’s 30 years working there since 1980 — when he himself was a mere youngster in third grade. (He evidently has a sense of humor, too.)

Actually Fallin first began working at the CEA office in Jefferson County some three years prior. At the time, in 1977, she was a new transplant from Pennsylvania, sporting a fashionable Dorothy Hamill bob that year.

Since then, Salazar said, Fallin took the lead to establish a strong public relations program at the association. “The public view of what we do as an organization has been largely shaped by that,” he said.

In addition, Fallin helped institute the important Teacher of the Year programs and put the Colorado chapter of NEA on the map with the Department of Education.

And, Salazar remarked, Fallin has certainly forged fantastic relations with the media across the state. That has been instrumental in the success of many ballot measures over the years, going back to vouchers to Amendment 31 to successfully fighting off TABOR two out of the three times it appeared on the ballot, to Amendment 39 back in 2006, the so-called 65% solution on how school districts should spend their money.

CEA President Beverly Ingle credited Fallin with not only creating a public relations department at the organization, but also personally teaching her about the importance of things in the craft such as ‘white space.’

Jeff Julin, president of MGA Communications in Denver, praised Fallin, who he has worked with over the last 22 years, for her professionalism and inspiration.

Adele Bravo, Colorado’s 2006 Teacher of the Year, likewise credited Fallin for challenging her to take on new projects and to reach for higher goals.

Longtime friend and former CEA staffer Ann Williams reminisced about the good ol’ days when she and Fallin published newsletters without the benefit of light tables.

And John Chase, who works at one of the district CEA offices and has known Fallin for going on 40 years, interjected a little levity when he revealed his friend’s passion for buying shoes.

“We didn’t have a Nordstrom’s back then,” he reminded Fallin about the late 1970s, “but we have three in Denver now.”

But more importantly, he said about Fallin, she should be hailed for all the tremendous and meaningful work on ideas and themes over the years that have transformed how public education is perceived.

“I’m very happy and am not going anywhere, just two miles away,” responded Fallin in closing comments to her friends and peers. “I look forward to seeing you all again, but just not here.”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com