Murray B. Schneps was born to Jewish parents who had immigrated to New York in search of the American dream and was raised in the insular neighborhood of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. His street smarts and inquisitive mind led him to a legal career.
When his first child, Lara, was born profoundly mentally retarded and multiply handicapped, he was forced to confront the way our society viewed and treated the “children of a lesser God” and he vowed to use every tool in his arsenal to wage war against the status quo.
When Lara was born in the 1960s, large institutions were the only resource available to the disabled. In addition to not providing adequate care, the institutions were subject to state budget cuts which led to a ratio of patients to caregivers at inhumane levels. Much of this was chronicled by Geraldo Rivera as a young reporter.
Mr. Schneps, along with a group of advocates, realized that better care could be provided for those with disabilities in smaller settings, such as group homes, and that such care, even with rehabilitative services, was more cost efficient.
Along the way, he engaged in civil litigation, including class actions, to vindicate the rights of those with mental and physical disabilities. It was not possible to ensure that Lara would always be safe and cared for without changing the existing public and private bias in favor of large institutions. As an activist and gladiator, he challenged government officials, communities, and other parents to explore different and better ways to care for those with disabilities.
He was a named plaintiff in the action addressing the horrors existing at the infamous Willowbrook State School, was a vice chairman of the Willowbook Review Panel, which was charged with implementing the agreed-to changes, and became an unapologetic ideologue dedicated to the development of small community residences.
This action created a new system of care for those that could not fight on behalf of themselves and set a precedent throughout New York and nationally for care of those with disabilities. It also led to the closure of the Suffolk Developmental Center.
Mr. Schneps chronicled his experiences fighting for his daughter Lara and all those with disabilities in a book published in 2015, “I See Your Face Before Me.”
Mr. Schneps was a resident of Baiting Hollow for over 20 years, practiced law in Riverhead for over 25 years after 20 years in Manhattan, and was an active member of Riverhead Rotary.
He leaves behind his wife, Teri; daughters Elizabeth and Samantha, son, Joshua; stepson, Jason, and six grandchildren.
This is a paid notice.