Meet the woman who launched NPF

| Sheri Decker

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Psoriasis Advance. It appears for the first time online in honor of our 50th celebration and because we believe Halprin’s story should be shared with new readers. You can find Halprin at the start of our 50-year timeline, in 1967.)

It is with deep sorrow that we report Beverly Foster Halprin died Nov. 19, 2003, of pneumonia at age 67. Her legacy will live on until psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are cured.

Beverly Foster Halprin, better known to many as Bobbie, was about to celebrate her 30th birthday in 1966 when her husband at the time, Larry W. Foster, placed a small ad in a local Portland, Oregon, newspaper asking people who had psoriasis to contact his wife. Beverly had struggled with psoriasis since her teenage years and was experiencing nervous exhaustion from the stress of the disease. She told Larry if only she could talk to others who know this torment, it might help. Larry’s birthday gift brought a flood of callers who quickly realized they had to stick together.

Beverly once wrote, “For my part, this was a turning point. My disease was not just a handicap but also the reason for my taking a new lease on life. There were people I could help. I could do something!” Led by Beverly, the group of “telephone friends” formed the Psoriasis Society of Oregon, which eventually became the National Psoriasis Foundation.

By January of 1967, the six-month-old Psoriasis Society of Oregon already had a long list of accomplishments: a psoriasis research fund had been established, a cadre of volunteers was working to build the organization, more than 100 research volunteers were ready to donate their skin to science, regular monthly meetings were held, an informative newsletter was launched, and a truly dedicated dermatologist and medical advisor, Kenneth Halprin, M.D., was working in support of the organization.

The ‘Velvet Steamroller’

Along with Dr. Halprin, Beverly immediately approached the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for psoriasis research funds. Though her initial request was denied, she persevered, continuing to contact NIH directors, members of Congress and influential doctors who could make her wishes come true. At the same time, she persistently invited people to join her in building an organization that would address the multitude of issues facing people who live with psoriasis. Her nickname was the “Velvet Steamroller,” and her determination and compassion on behalf of people who live with psoriasis was endless.

In the Psoriasis Society’s April 1968 newsletter, Beverly wrote, “The entire foundation of our Society is now ready for the development from the awkward stages of adolescence into that of adulthood.” Thus, on Aug. 21 of that same year, the members of the Psoriasis Society of Oregon adopted a new name and a new set of bylaws that would give birth to the National Psoriasis Foundation – an organization to encompass the nation. The Psoriasis Foundation received its official charter in October of 1968.

One very important characteristic didn’t change: the overall values of the organization. From the very beginning, the Psoriasis Foundation’s purpose was, and still is, to improve the quality of life of people who have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, through education, advocacy and research. (Editor: Our mission now, in our 50th year, is “to drive efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected.”)

By 1974, Beverly and the dermatologists who served on the medical advisory board she constructed convinced the U.S. Social Security Administration to recognize psoriasis as a disabling disease. By 1975, she challenged the federal government to increase research funding of psoriasis and to end discrimination against psoriasis patients. As a result of Beverly’s testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, a $300,000 grant was given to expand psoriasis research – a huge increase at the time.

She worked relentlessly to create public awareness that would dispel the myths about psoriasis – that it was contagious or that it was a trivial disease. She taught the public that psoriasis certainly wasn’t a laughing matter when an ad campaign about the “heartbreak of psoriasis” made the disease appear to be a bad case of dandruff.

With her charm and determination, Beverly continued to lobby and testify before Congress to secure more funding for psoriasis research. She was an able fund-raiser who awakened the country to the needs of people with psoriasis. She consoled thousands when they reached out for empathy and insight from someone who truly new what it is like to live with this most upsetting disease.

The Founder moves on

Beverly led the Foundation in its development and progress until 1979. She then went on to pursue other interests, while continuing to applaud the efforts of the Psoriasis Foundation as a volunteer, donor and advocate. She married Dr. Halprin in 1989, and they lived together in Salem, Oregon, until Dr. Halprin’s death in 1995.

In a 1969 newsletter, Beverly wrote, “I would like to impart to you some of the same determination that was, and is, instilled in the original founders of this organization, which is to see that psoriasis is conquered. On the basis of your own personal experiences…the discomfort, physically and psychologically, the economic drain, the impact on your family, and most important the pain of knowing you may pass this stigma on to the next generation…

“I think you will agree the time has come for all of us to prepare financially to undertake the only sensible approach to solving the real psoriasis ‘hang-up’ through active support of research and education. ‘This time,’ as Emerson said, ‘like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.’”

Beverly knew exactly what to do with it, and through her diligent dedication she left a legacy that will someday find a cause and a cure for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Thank you, Bobbie.

Sheri Decker got involved with NPF in the 1970s as a volunteer, board member and, eventually, an employee. She served two terms as chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, 1976-1978 and 1981-1984. As a member of NPF’s staff, her titles included associate director, publications editor, director of communications, and executive liaison, international communications.

Other stories in our Women's History Month series:

Anne Bowcock, M.D.

Barbara Butler

Sheri Decker

Golda Falloon

Kathleen Gallant

Alice Gottlieb, M.D., Ph.D.

A. Marilyn Sime, R.N., Ph.D.

Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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