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Social worker Garet White helped the 'Girl in the window'

In 2005, Plant City police discovered a malnourished girl nearly 7 years old lying on a bedroom floor near a 4-foot pile of her soiled diapers crawling with cockroaches.

She could hear but not speak. A pediatric psychologist called it the "most outrageous case of child neglect" she had ever seen.

The girl, whose name is now Dani Lierow, would find a loving home. Her story, "Girl in the window," attracted international attention and a 2009 Pulitzer prize for Times staff writer Lane DeGregory.

There were many milestones in the girl's recovery. One of the first — sustained human contact — came about because of a social worker who asked that the case be assigned to her.

To those who knew her, it was just the kind of thing Garet White would do. She had always taken on the toughest challenges. She had helped homeless people and battered wives, spoken up for seniors who needed an advocate and found permanent homes for children who had been abused.

If her empathy was muscular and boundless, her body was finite and vulnerable.

Ms. White, a voice for people who needed one, died May 15. She was 44 and suffered a variety of medical problems.

A former model, she took on the name Garet on the advice of others in the business. Family and friends always called her Peggy.

"She took responsibility for every child that was in her case load," said Lynne Klopf, 75, Ms. White's mother. "(Danielle) was the shining example. But she was far and away not the only one for whom Peggy worked to find a good home."

She understood their need for a secure sense of identity.

Margaret Klopf was born in 1969 in Evanston, Ill., an infant with icy blue eyes. Her 25-year-old unwed mother placed her for adoption.

Lynne Klopf and her husband adopted Ms. White when she was 10 weeks old. She was raised in Cleveland and graduated from private schools but never really outgrew Sesame Street.

At age 19 she contacted her biological mother, Linda Clark, who looked like her and had many of the same mannerisms.

"We were so genetically in sync," said Clark, 70. Ms. White also learned that her biological father was one of the detectives who investigated mass murderer John Wayne Gacy in the 1970s.

For several years, Ms. White worked with the homeless and with abused domestic partners. In the meantime, a marriage resulted in her son Charley, now 14. The marriage ended.

Peers say Ms. White's history helped her relate to children.

"She could get to a child's level and get them to talk," said Katrina Stallings, who hired Ms. White in 2004 as a caseworker for the Children's Home Society. "She just had a knack for that. Underlying that was her passion for saving children in need and helping kids who needed a permanent home like she had needed herself years ago."

She worked nights and weekends. Sometimes Stallings had to tell Ms. White to slow down.

It was through that job in 2005 that Ms. White learned of a shocking case in Plant City. A blond girl, about 7, was functioning as a 2-year-old, having grown up in squalor and with so little human contact she couldn't talk.

Ms. White asked a judge for the case. She stayed with the girl at the hospital, fed her and changed her diapers. Later, as a case manager for Camelot Community Care, Ms. White helped place Dani in Heart Gallery Tampa Bay. That led to her adoption by Bernie and Diane Lierow in 2007.

Heart Gallery paid tribute by naming Ms. White the 2007 case manager of the year.

By then her health problems had mounted. She had suffered through years of headaches. She had an aneurysm. She had to stop working.

She stayed in touch with Dani, who is now 15, and her family in Lebanon, Tenn. She watched from the studio audience as Anderson Cooper interviewed the parents.

Dani, who did not smile for years, greeted Ms. White with a hug.

"When she saw (Ms. White), her eyes lit up, like, 'I know you!' " said Bernie Lierow, 55.

Dani still does not speak but can use an image-based device to communicate five or six words, her father said. A story about her progress will air at 9 p.m. June 8 on the OWN network's Oprah: Where Are They Now?

Bernie Lierow thinks Dani would have been institutionalized were it not for the extra work done by Ms. White.

"Once they go to an institution, that's the end of it," he said.

Ms. White died in her sleep, her family said. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office is awaiting results from an autopsy.

Despite her health setbacks, Klopf said, her daughter had no inkling she might be near death. In June, Ms. White and Charley were to go to California to visit Clark, her biological mother, for three weeks.

In recent years Ms. White had taken a course in making stained glass windows. Not along ago she made one Charley had designed of Kermit the Frog. It hangs in a bathroom window on the north side of her Valrico home, catching the sunlight part of the day.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

 

Margaret Klopf 'Garet' White

Born: Oct. 24, 1969

Died: May 15, 2014

Survivors: son, Charley White; mother, Lynne Klopf; stepfather, John Tissue; brother, John Klopf; biological mother, Linda Clark; half brother, Ian Clark; and half sister, Jalin Clark Runza.

Social worker Garet White helped the 'Girl in the window' 05/27/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:32pm]

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