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Dedicated to something that would make a difference

LO's Gail Zimmerman set to retire after 27 years with the National Psoriasis Foundation
by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego resident Gail Zimmerman, shown above in her boardroom, will retire from her job as president and CEO of the National Psoriasis Foundation, based in Portland. Zimmerman has spent the past 27 years working with the foundation to promote awareness of the skin disease and raise money for research, education and advocacy.

President and CEO of the National Psoriasis Foundation and longtime Lake Oswego resident Gail Zimmerman is set to retire this year after nearly 30 years of service.

This comes with a nearly unanimous outpouring of sadness and support for the 62-year-old Portland native.

In one letter out of the hundreds Zimmerman has received, a member of the foundation said, 'Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have done an outstanding, magnificent and stunning job. I applaud your vision and fortitude.'

Another letter said, 'All I can say is that I am grateful that you were the one that answered the ad 27 years ago, and I'll miss you.'

This kind of love is what Zimmerman is now receiving on a daily basis, since she has announced her retirement after 27 years of dedicated service.

Originally raised in Mountain Park, Zimmerman went to Wilson High School and then went on to attend the University of Puget Sound in Washington.

Zimmerman went to graduate school and worked in various contracts with the state for advocacy of low-income health services. Zimmerman also worked for the CIA for a couple years, as well as working in Alaska with Eskimos.

By the time she had reached 34, Zimmerman said she was 'at a point in life where I wanted to apply my energies into something that would make a difference.'

She answered an ad for a director position with the foundation, which was struggling at the time. It had no staff and were considering closing its doors, despite having been in existence for 11 years.

Zimmerman had a mere few months to take money from one donor and turn around the entire organization.

'People were very depressed when I first came aboard,' Zimmerman said. 'For many years people thought it was a joke. Those with the disease are very alone -they are embarrassed because people would think it's contagious, or that they were stressed out and not taking care of themselves.'

The shift started, says Zimmerman, when the disease came to be seen as legitimate in society.

'People would come in just for emotional support when they found out they were not alone,' Zimmerman said.

NPF was the first national health charity, and is based out of Portland. Some years back officals tried to move it to New York, but realized that there was no reason to and that they liked Portland.

When asked what her best moment was with the foundation, Zimmerman says that it is probably now. She is receiving letters from patients that joined when they were 12 or 13 years old and have grown up.

'The letters I am getting say that they are in part who they are because of us,' Zimmerman said. 'They say that they have beautiful families and are happy, confident citizens and parents because of the foundation.'

Continues Zimmerman with amazement, 'I knew that people liked us, but we had never had letters like that that reviewed people's lives. It is most gratifying and humbling.'

Meanwhile, Zimmerman, who has lived in Lake Oswego for 22 years, will continue working in the local community in whatever she can, and is looking to do some type of charity work.

NPF just raised a $5 million charity campaign, and they are at the point where the organization is going to expand.

'I want to give the next person the chance to have as amazing an experience as I've had,' Zimmerman said.

Married for 14 years, the woman who gave everything to her work will be done in just a couple months.

'My husband is already retired, and has been waiting patiently,' Zimmerman said with a laugh. 'I'm looking forward to spending more time with him, as well as seeing where the foundation goes in the future.'