In Memory: Liz Bailey leaves a legacy of cooperative advocacy and public service

Liz Bailey served as Executive Director of the Cooperative Development Foundation for close to a decade.

Elizabeth “Liz” Carolyn Allen Bailey, a devoted public servant and cooperative advocate who helmed the Cooperative Development Foundation for close to a decade, passed away January 25 at her home in Sarasota, Florida. The communities of CDF and NCBA CLUSA are deeply saddened by this loss and will join cooperative leaders on Thursday, March 7 at 10:30 am to celebrate her life during this week’s episode of Everything Co-op.

“Liz was tremendously generous with her time and talent in advancing the cooperative movement,” said Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “She consistently used her deep knowledge of policymaking to make it possible for more people to use cooperatives to build a better world.”

Born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in 1948, Liz grew up in large extended family that believed people should improve the communities in which they live and work. That conviction to public good through public service shaped her career choices. At 18, Liz first learned about the cooperative business model as a member of the Consumers Cooperative of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She later heard how electric cooperatives powered rural America from a cousin who served both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as director of the Rural Electrification Administration.

Liz earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in public policy from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she met Jim Bailey, whom she later married.

While a student and then resident of Madison, Liz was active in her community. She served on the boards of a Dane County environmental organization and a funding support group for Madison’s public radio station. She also headed up Women in Communications, an organization that promoted women journalists. In the private sector, Liz focused on strategic communication, succession planning and human resource development for local energy company.

Meanwhile, she was carving out a public policy career. Her state service included staff and senior management positions in the administrations of four Wisconsin governors. Her appointment in 1986 as director of the Wisconsin Federal-State Relations Office in Washington, DC capped almost a decade of state-level public service. At the federal level, she served as a senior political appointee at the Department of Defense under the Clinton Administration. When she transitioned to the private sector, that public policy experience informed her advocacy for co-ops in critical policy and funding discussions.

“Liz’s political instincts were incredible; she was always my go-to person when positioning cooperatives in a public policy debate,” said Paul Hazen, Executive Director of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council.

In 2003, Liz became Executive Director of the Cooperative Development Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit affiliate of the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA). In January 2012, amid a leadership change at NCBA CLUSA, Liz was asked to serve as Vice President for Public Policy and Domestic Development, an assignment that resulted in a nine-month stint as Interim CEO at NCBA CLUSA. She returned to CDF in March 2013, resuming her full-time responsibilities as Executive Director.

During Liz’s tenure at CDF, she increased fundraising and grantmaking, secured funds for cooperative solutions for seniors, established a national cooperative development center, expanded the scope and reach of CDF, and supported cross-sector cooperative development and education.  She could be seen cheering on cooperators at the annual Co-op 5K race or engaging with representatives from all sectors at the Cooperative Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

“With her public policy and communications lens, Liz knew how to advocate for the cooperative values and difference to any and all audiences,” said Mary Griffin, Executive Director of Cooperative Development Foundation. “Her unique perspective helped raise the cooperative profile and increase funding for cooperative education and development.”

After leaving CDF in October 2013, Liz remained active in promoting cooperatives through private consulting. In her role as Principal of The Bailey Group LLC, Liz worked with Everything Co-op, National Cooperative Bank, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Cooperatives for a Better World and Cooperation Works! She joined the planning committee at the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council and was a force behind the International Track at NCBA CLUSA’s Cooperative IMPACT Conference.

In her private time, Liz was an enthusiastic cook and host who enjoyed entertaining friends and family at home. She is survived by her husband, James H. “Jim” Bailey; her brother, Loyall C. Allen and sister-in-law Pamela; two nieces, Michelle Allen and Christina Allen Koedijk; and numerous cousins.

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