By: Wendy Spinner, Fulfillment Fund Board Chair
For the last couple of months, the Fulfillment Fund community and I have been mourning the loss of our founding CEO, Andrea Deering Cockrum. For me — and many others — she was a friend, mentor, and someone who deeply impacted and inspired my life. It wasn’t just what she did that made her so special; it was how she did it, with grace, humility, kindness, and humor.
In 1988, Andrea joined Fulfillment Fund as Executive Director and the first full-time staff member. This was the same year the Fulfillment Fund began to offer scholarships and, soon thereafter, became the largest private provider of scholarships in Southern California. Andrea led the organization for more than 25 years, and even after retiring, she came back time and again to help lead the organization through transitions.
Following a long and successful career with United Airlines, she served as Executive Director of the Early Intervention Program for Developmentally Handicapped Children at UCLA for ten years. During this time, she met Dr. Gary Gitnick, Fulfillment Fund Co-founder, and after seeing her commitment and dedication to education, Gary asked her to join the Fulfillment Fund.
Andrea’s tenure with Fulfillment Fund was incredibly influential. The organization grew from a grassroots volunteer organization into a national model for college access programs that provided mentoring, classroom outreach, college counseling, and college scholarships. Thanks to her commitment and vision to continually expand Fulfillment Fund’s work, college access became a reality for over 20,000 students (and counting).
Dr. Gitnick said it fittingly in a note he wrote to Andrea in 2002: “You have made life burn brightly for so many young people for so many years. You have skillfully given them hope and opportunity. Through your leadership and your calm demeanor, you have been a role model for us all. Thank you for building, guiding, and sustaining the Fulfillment Fund and the many lives you have changed.”
Today, I have the honor of serving the organization that Andrea and Dr. Gitnick built together as Chair of Fulfillment Fund’s Board of Directors. I first met Andrea 30 years ago, thanks to her then-husband, Bill Cockrum, who was my professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Bill and Andrea hosted a retreat at their home in Ojai for a student group, which I led. When I met Andrea, I was drawn in by her warmth, compassion, and deep commitment to helping others. Soon after I became a Fulfillment Fund mentor, which began my involvement with the wonderful mission.
Andrea had a wonderful way of bringing people into the mission and was a personal supporter of many of our current alumni. She also always managed to find ways to meet students’ emergency needs as they came up, either through her many relationships with people she inspired or very quietly through her generosity. And, for many years, Andrea herself was very much on the front lines of supporting students. Later, when she began to hire professional staff to lead our programs, Andrea took on a different role to support students but always kept them front and center in the decisions that would evolve the organization and help bring Fulfillment Fund to where it is today.
When we remember Andrea and everything she did for us, it was the words of a former student that resonate for me and I know many agree with him: “You’re one of the most compassionate and caring people I know, a true leader who has built an amazing organization and has touched the lives of those around her, including my own. Thank you for being a mentor, a role model, a friend. But most importantly, thank you for being an advocate for students who deserve an opportunity to pursue their dreams. I know because I’m one of those students, and you have certainly touched my life in so many ways.”
I feel privileged to have worked alongside her and call her a friend. I believe her unstoppable passion will live on as a legacy through the many people whose lives she has touched, including mine. Andrea would be proud of where we are today as an organization and where we are headed. We will continue to honor her legacy and care for our students with the same commitment, care, and vision she had for them.
To honor Andrea’s incredible legacy, Fulfillment Fund has created the Andrea Cockrum Memorial Fund, dedicated to meeting emergency student needs that pose a challenge to the pursuit of their educational goals. If you would like to make a donation, please click here.