president and founder of The Jason Foundation, was presented “The
Emily Couric Award” on April 26, 2003 during the second annual brain
injury conference for Southwest Virginia held at Radford
University. Presenter Teresa Poole, president of Brain Injury
Association of Virginia, Roanoke Valley Chapter, read excerpts from
several nominations, which Ms. Rooker received.
The award was established in 2002 to honor the
memory of state senator Emily Couric who was instrumental in gaining
approval for the Commonwealth Neurotrauma Initiative. The initiative
provided for significant financial resources to be placed in a
special trust for programs and research for traumatic brain and
spinal cord injuries.
Nominees are selected from within the
Commonwealth of Virginia with particular attention given to those
candidates from Southwest Virginia who have made unique
contributions through their advocacy, leadership, commitment and
service on the behalf of brain injury survivors.
The following are three of the submitted
“Fran Rooker took what has to be the most
devastating tragedy a mother can face...the loss of a child…and
turned it into a crusade to help others. Her tireless energy, deep
passion and single-minded focus has done more to advance the cause
of those with brain injury and their families than anyone else in
the state of Virginia.
“Her efforts to establish The Jason Foundation
to provide information and help for survivors and their families;
and Brain Injury Services of SWVA to help provide services and case
management for survivors have been a God-send to folks in Southwest
Wyatt, Roanoke City councilwoman
and brain injury survivor caregiver
“When people say, ‘whom do you think about when
it comes to brain injury?’ Fran Rooker comes to my mind almost
immediately. Bonnie and Clyde; Thelma and Louise; Rimbaud and
Verlaine; Fran Rooker and brain injury.
“As a survivor of a gunshot wound to the brain
of the severest magnitude, I can only guess what was running through
Fran’s mind approximately three years ago when she introduced
herself to me at the Brain Injury Town Meeting in Roanoke.
“She was there to give a speech about the
shocking number of people with brain injury falling through the
cracks of the hospital system. I was there, brain-addled and
frantic (as only the brain injured know how to be!) to deliver a
speech on the possibilities of starting a kind of grass roots,
community based organization in the great big city of Radford, VA.
“I thought I had a great chance of really
stirring things up; walking clumsily up there practically in front
of the whole brain injury community. Little did I know that a
feisty and fiery-eyed Greco-Italian woman had already beaten me to
“Introducing Fran Vickers Rooker, a lovely
human being. She married Greg Rooker and begat three healthy
children, two girls and a boy. The boy’s name was Jason and by all
accounts he was very special. He had the ability to make you laugh
with his twinkling brown eyes.
“One summer day, Jason, the Rooker’s only son,
was playing with a toy lasso and accidentally hanged himself. Can
you imagine losing a child like that?
“Grieving beyond belief and having seen the
callous way insurance providers treat people with brain injuries;
how society often treats them like the great unwashed, how
practically nobody in the New River Valley had experienced such a
thing, the Rookers decided to create The Jason Foundation.
“Helping people with brain injuries and their
families by ensuring there is an advocate there to help you better
understand the intimate aspects of the stages of recovery. Making
sure families and survivors get appropriate care from insurance
companies and to integrate survivors into the community. Helping
them live productive lives.
“The Jason Foundation found Brain Injury
Services of SWVA, a remarkable community service that has helped
tremendously survivors in Roanoke and the surrounding areas.
“Fran serves on the BIS of SWVA board along
with several other people whom are familiar with brain injury.
“BIS of SWVA, thanks in no small part to the
efforts of Fran, now has a pediatric program. She works with the
Virginia Brain Injury Service Providers Alliance and the Disability
Commission. Most recently, she’s been working with us some on the
pediatric program; and she will be on the Advisory Team for the
Pediatric Brain Injury Program here.
“Community is a powerful, good word and Fran
Rooker, that feisty Greco-Italian with a lion’s heart and the soul
of a blessed saint, serves the brain injury community well.”
John Seaberg, Survivor
“Since the death of her 10-year-old son, Jason,
from the effects of an anoxic brain injury in 1997, Fran Rooker has
devoted the great majority of her time, energy and emotional
commitment to improving the lives of those living with brain
“Within 10 days of her only son’s death, Fran
responded to a couple from Virginia Beach whose son suffered a brain
injury similar to Jason’s. They had learned of the proposed “Jason
Foundation” from an article about Jason’s death in the Norfolk
“With that family, Fran began providing support
services within the brain injury community and she has never taken
her hand off the throttle. Brain Injury work has become a means for
Fran to give meaning to Jason’s life, injury and subsequent death.
“Beginning with the establishment of The Jason
Foundation, which provides information, advocacy, referral and
limited financial assistance, it didn’t take Fran long to realize
that the brain injury community of Southwest Virginia needed more.
To meet that need Fran founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA in 2000
to provide long-term service coordination and life skills training.
“The following is an outline of Fran’s
involvement, as I know it:
- Founded The Jason Foundation in Radford
and operated it solo for three years
- Founded Brain Injury Services of SWVA
- Submitted and lobbied HJR21/SJR190 bills
to study Virginia Brain Injury Central Registry through the
- Through The Jason Foundation contributed
$340,000 to George Washington University as seed money for the
establishment of GWU Center for Education and Human Services in
Acquired Brain Injury
- Through the GWU Center helped set up a
Distance Learning Program for Radford University and
subsequently the University of Hawaii and others
- Spends hundreds of hours and drives
thousands of miles annually taking an active role as a board
member of the following agencies:
Virginia Brain Injury Council
Alliance for Brain Injury Service Providers
Brain Injury Association of Virginia
Brain Injury Services of SWVA
The Jason Foundation
Advisory Board - Roanoke Valley Chapter of BIAV
Member of the initial and subsequent
Transcending Brain Injury Conference Committees
2002 – Chaired Exhibits and Volunteer Committees, member
Emily Couric Committee
2003 - Chaired Exhibits Committee
Worked on and at both Southwest
Virginia Invitational Golf Challenges
- Helped establish and continues to sponsor
New River Valley Support Group
- Works an average of 45 volunteer hours per
week on brain injury activities
- Has spent 10 days in Richmond lobbying
the General Assembly for increased Brain Injury fundin
“In all, Fran spends most of her waking hours
caught up in some aspect of brain injury. She has personally
counseled and assisted close to one hundred brain injury survivors
and their families in places as close as Pulaski and as far away as
Puerto Rico. On average she attends more than 20 meetings per
month involving her work with brain injury.
“In her many involvements she has worked in the
trenches not just in command posts. In meetings I have attended
with her she’s usually the first to volunteer for additional
duties. She has been known to clean and mop as well as to assume
leadership positions. She speaks out on brain injury whenever an
opportunity presents itself and often when it doesn’t.
“As her husband I have accompanied Fran on this
journey. Watching her has always been inspiring and at times
tiring. And while I may get some of the credit for certain of these
activities I can assure you, Fran’s the steam that makes our brain
injury turbine run.
“I’m there largely because she is. And she
seems to always be there.”
Greg Rooker, Co-founder The Jason Foundation