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Sandra Garrity, 45; N.H. case exposed abuse of disabled

BROOKLINE, N.H. -- Sandra Garrity, a developmentally disabled woman whose case helped expose the abuse and neglect that led to the closing of the Laconia State School, has died of pancreatic cancer. She was 45.

New Hampshire then became the first state in the nation to adopt a policy of providing services locally to the developmentally disabled through a network of private, nonprofit agencies.

Ms. Garrity, who died at her home on July 22, was the lead plaintiff in Garrity v. Gallen, a lawsuit filed against the state that accused the school of maintaining horrific conditions for its residents.

She was sent to the school in 1968 when she was 8 and remained there until she was 21.

The school was supposed to be a training institution, but during testimony in the 1980 trial, witnesses said it was a human warehouse where residents were often left alone to sit naked in their feces and urine. Staff prodded residents with hatpins, burned them with cigarettes, and kicked them. They also shut off the water at night, forcing anyone who was thirsty to drink from the toilets.

While she was at the school, Ms. Garrity never learned to speak, instead communicating in sentence fragments.

''No them put me in no straitjacket no more," she later told her foster care provider, Heather Pendry. ''No them hit me no more. No them throw me down the stairs no more. No them pull my hair no more," the Telegraph in Nashua reported.

Ms. Garrity had to work at getting even the most basic provisions, such as a cup of coffee. She learned that if she behaved, she would be rewarded with her favorite drink. She learned to guard her cup and drink quickly; no cup in hand was ever safe.

There was no statewide community network to support residents of the institution who would need a place to live after the school closed, MacIntosh said.

Several years later, community-based programs were provided to help families and their loved ones with developmental disabilities.

Before becoming part of the Pendry family more than 10 years ago, Ms. Garrity had lived in several group homes. At age 45, she was able to sign her name on birthday and Father's Day cards for the first time.

She worked for the Plus Co. in Nashua, which teaches skills to the disabled.

She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall. In December, Pendry organized a party to celebrate Ms. Garrity's life.

A memorial service was held Wednesday in Manchester. Ms. Garrity's friends and extended family gathered in a lobby with a long table set with cartons of coffee and boxes of doughnuts.

''For one last tribute, there's coffee in the foyer on behalf of the family," said the Rev. Kevin Twombly, Heather Pendry's brother. ''They want you to enjoy that cup of coffee and remember Sandy."

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