For Linda Noble Topf ’71, attitude is everything.
Topf graduated from Moore in 1971 with a degree in Fashion Illustration and a minor in Advertising. She founded Noble Design Associates, an award-winning image development, design and marketing company and became a founding member of the Business Women’s Network in Philadelphia, among other accomplishments.
But in 1981, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her whole life’s path changed. She could have fallen apart, but instead chose to view her condition as an opportunity for personal growth.
She credits her positive attitude to her education at Moore, particularly a lesson from Professor Louise Stahl’s Color Theory class.
“She had this light box. The assignment was to take pale grey, and put it on a white or black background,” Topf said. “It’s the same grey, but the environment is different. That changed my life. I began to think differently. So I get MS and it’s like, ‘no, I’m not the person who is just going to die from this.’”
Today, Topf is a prominent advocate for disability rights. She is an ordained minister with a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Santa Monica, a spiritual and wellness coach, professional speaker and a best-selling published author.
Topf is dedicated to assisting others in seeing that chronic illness, debilitating injury or any kind of adversity can be viewed as a “spiritual awakening.”
“It’s the same metaphor as Louise Stahl’s color box,” Topf said. “The grey is the same on white or black, it’s just different. MS is the same. I know people with MS who are very active and others who are not. It depends on your attitude. Adversity is the greatest teacher that I have. My life has just expanded even more.”
In 1984, Topf founded The MS Initiative, an innovative project for MS patients and their families to ask questions, explore alternative treatments and maintain positive attitudes. The organization expanded to nine states and existed for five years.
In 1995, she published her first book, You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge, through Simon & Schuster. The book shows that illness, injury or disability can not only physically alter your life, but can also cause great emotional upheaval and loss of self-worth. Topf offers an inspirational message and gives readers tips for turning the negative into a positive.
A 2000 trip to The National Liberty Museum led to another opportunity for Topf.
“I was there one day in a wheelchair and I saw that there was no representation of anybody in a wheelchair and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I contacted the director and said I didn’t see Stevie Wonder or Helen Keller, people who had done amazing things with physical limitations. He said ‘hand me a proposal.’”
Within a month, Topf had helped design and create Inspiration, an exhibit on permanent display at the museum, which profiles noted physically challenged people throughout history.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but that’s what I’m most proud of,” she said.
In 2011, Topf wrote her second book, Wheelchair Wisdom: Awaken Your Spirit Through Adversity. The book, which will be published this year, aims to shatter widespread notions of what it’s like to spend life in a wheelchair. It been endorsed by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and Arianna Huffington, among others.
In 2012, The Huffington Post invited Topf to write “Wheelchair Wisdom” columns under theHealthy Living banner. She currently writes several columns a month.
“I feel so blessed to have all these opportunities,” Topf said. “There’s no ‘me, me, me’ in this. It’s all about service. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I can’t walk. I don’t know if I ever will again. But the point is it’s not about me anymore.”
Topf said she first discovered Moore in high school by taking Saturday youth art classes. When it came time to apply for college, Moore was the only place she applied.
“I loved the education but I was also a serious student and very committed to my art,” she said. “I honor to this day Ms. Stahl. I went to see her at the home she was at for one of her birthdays. I told her what a difference she had made in my life. She passed away a year later. I’m glad I was able to tell her. You go through life with these significant others and you never get to tell them that.”
For more on Linda Noble Topf, visit her website