Advocate disabled in accident as teen helped others live with purpose, by Andy Winnegar

My friend, Gene R. Rodgers passed away recently after a short illness. He was 67.

In my column, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, July 16, 2022, I shared with readers his adventurous life captured in his newly published memoir, Awesome by Accident, available on Amazon.

When Rodgers was 17, he fell from a cliff, rock climbing and lived the rest of his life as a quadriplegic with out the use of his arms and legs.

We met working at New Vistas in Santa Fe, in the early 1980’s. The organization was selected to start the first Center for Independent Living.

Rodgers, fresh from Cleveland, with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, worked as a peer counselor for the center.

Independent living was considered a movement in the 1970’s and with the federal funding in 1979, provided through the Rehabilitation Act, programs were funded throughout the country.

Rodgers’ warm personality, quick humor and knowledge of the social services system helped increase opportunities for many people in New Mexico.

He also worked at the Center on Disability, University of California, Northridge and headed the Texas Assistive Technology Program.

He traveled around the world seeking adventures whenever he could. He even joined a trek to the Mount Everest basecamp, where he met former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who would successfully climb to the summit that year.

Rodgers had to be evacuated the next day by helicopter after his blood pressure dropped to critical levels.

Although he had many daring adventures and a long work career, he continued volunteering after retirement.

He co-hosted the Gene and Dave Show, a disability-focused TV show aired on Austin public access channel.

He lived independently, and set his goals high, achieving more than most of us.

He could break the ice on issues that needed to be addressed, with legislators, government officials, business owners and frustrated people trying to access services.

In the 1980’s he even talked the former owner of Tomasitas, Georgia Maryol into constructing a van accessible parking space long before it was required by law.

The parking space is right next to the restaurant entrance and was a model for other businesses.

He believed that life was worth living no matter what your circumstances.

He was an optimist who took risks, jumping from planes, Scuba diving, bungy jumping, moving to a new job, in a new town or state and traveling to find a new adventure wherever it was.

We continued to work together over the years in various roles, most recently serving together to review grants for the Reeve Foundation.

He was an important member of our family who called every year to wish my wife and her mom happy Mother’s Day.

Our family will always cherish the memories of having him in our lives. It broke my heart to lose him.

A celebration of Rodgers’ life is planned for Saturday, May 6th, 1:00 pm CST. Livestream:

Previous post: