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The Catalyst
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

October 2014, vol. 20, no. 3

Former Women and the Law Chair honored with Lifetime Achievement Award at Women’s Bar Association Centennial

On a June 6, 2014, a beautiful evening on Navy Pier in Chicago, ISBA member and former Chair of the ISBA Women and The Law Committee, Sharon Eiseman, was honored at a gala event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI). Below are excerpts from Sharon’s acceptance speech which she graciously agreed to share with The Catalyst Newsletter readers:

On the founders of the WBAI and the late Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, in whose name and honor the WBAI Lifetime Achievement Award is given:

I find constant reward in the friendships gained from every program, project, event, and advocacy initiative I’ve participated in…never alone, always in the provocative yet comforting company of others. In this respect, we are luckier than our brave forebears who built the sturdy foundation for this Centennial. Despite having comrades to aid them in their struggles for gender equality, our founders and early presidents took great risks and faced enormous odds in those struggles—which they sometimes lost, and they faced more hostile adversaries. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, as we do to Mary Ann (McMorrow – 1/16/1930 to 2/23/2013) who, by being FIRST in so many ways and with less support than we have now, showed us WE CAN DO IT!

On the Women Everywhere Project (WE), a foundation Sharon helped start and which she still actively recruits for:

The ‘Women Everywhere Project’ developed from a gathering of women attorneys fed up with being undervalued by their male counterparts. We brainstormed about how to improve the status of women in the profession. The option of a boycott by women attorneys to prove we are essential progressed to a constructive plan to create a service project of use to women in need and high school girls in our communities. The result was WE, the service and education partnership that is fueled by many minority and women’s bar groups, our judiciary, law firms and government offices. Speaking of Women Everywhere…it’s not too late to sign up for our … Agency Service Day! Visit our website, www.wechicago.org.

On the Joint Task Force on Women and Aging, which Sharon also helped start and is passionate about promoting.

The CBA/WBAI JTF on Women and Aging, established in 1999 and thriving today, also came about through a collaborative effort--to address the legal, financial, health care, housing, employment and post-retirement challenges faced by women as they age and become more vulnerable. Nothing meaningful and enduring can be accomplished without the energy, participation and support of others, that being ALL OF YOU. Nothing I’ve accomplished would have taken shape without many of the women—and enlightened men—in this room. I treasure working with you and especially enjoy ‘inter-generational’ projects (that’s code for working with younger attorneys) because I’m energized by these exchanges and I just keep learning all the while I imagine that I’m educating you.

On the late Roxanne Rochester, fellow ISBA and WBAI Board Member, who passed away on April 12, 2014 (age 52), and was also honored at the Centennial celebration.

And I’m honored to be in the company of and share the stage with Roxanne Rochester, a passionate lawyer who recently died—unexpectedly and far too young. Her vibrant spirit survives and I applaud the WBAI for recognizing her on this occasion. Years ago Roxanne asked me to interview her for an ISBA Newsletter about her painful experience with sexual harassment at a law firm early in her career, and her costly but successful legal challenge brought against the perpetrators. Despite concern about exposing a very personal part of her history, she wanted other women to learn from her battle so they might feel brave enough to report harassment.

At any given time, there is a great need for improving conditions faced by so many individuals and communities—especially women. You too embrace that reality and that’s why you are here tonight—celebrating our progress and ready to carry on the ‘good fight’ no matter the obstacles we face. Together in partnership we assume the burdens and can share the benefits of our joint endeavors, but must be willing to take risks, ask tough questions, stumble and fail and explore new paths into the unknown—LIKE OUR SUFFRAGETTE SISTERS.

Sharon is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a mentor, a former President of WBAI, an ISBA Laureate and a truly generous and gentle soul. Although willing to ask hard questions, explore, stumble and fall, Sharon always stands tall among the community of women lawyers in Illinois and is an example to all women of what it actually looks like to “get it done right.”

Below are a few additional tributes from other ISBA Women and The Law Chairs who have worked with Sharon (WATL Chair 2007-2008) over her many years of service to the profession and the public:

Paula Holderman (WATL Chair 2000-01; ISBA President 2013-14) – I am fortunate to have the opportunity to publicly praise my friend Sharon Eiseman, not only for the honor of receiving the WBAI Justice Mary Ann McMorrow Award but just as importantly for her lifetime contribution of service to women. I have long admired Sharon for her strong work ethic, incredible tenacity and principled integrity.  She has been a strong advocate for women in large and small ways and never allows politics or convenience to color her conviction.  Sharon has stood up for people without means or power, she has mentored and motivated young women, and she has generously supported many charitable causes benefitting women and vulnerable populations.  The ISBA in general, and the Women and the Law Standing Committee in particular, have been blessed to have Sharon Eiseman as an active leader and contributor in our organization.

Kathryn A. Kelly (WATL Chair 2001-02): There is only one Sharon -- she is unique and one-of-a-kind.  She champions causes, elevates her colleagues, and generates thought.  She can also drive you nuts with her dedication of getting it “just right.”  But we all know we are better for her efforts.  She never fails to recognize the contributions of others, no matter how small, and truly epitomizes what it is to be a public servant.  From the WBAI to the ISBA, she makes us all better.  We are the lucky recipients of her time and effort -- and how glorious that she is now being recognized for all her many contributions.

Mary F. Petruchius (WATL Chair 2013-14):  When a Chair of the WATL’s term is finished; the Committee often doesn’t have much contact with the ex-officio.  That’s not true of Sharon.  In the years following Sharon’s tenure as Chair of the Standing Committee on Women and the Law, Sharon has continued to show interest and enthusiasm for the work of this great committee.  She often joins us for dinner when we gather for the midyear and annual meetings so she can get to know the newest members.  When I announced last year that one of the goals of my term was to have 100% of the WATL members as Illinois Bar Foundation Fellows, Sharon took that one step further and committed to match each new Fellow’s contribution until we reach 100%! ■