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November 01, 2019

Nancy Coleman: COLA's First Director

Nancy Coleman was COLA's first director.

Nancy Coleman was COLA's first director.

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 2.)

Special 40th Anniversary Issue

Charlie Sabatino Pays Tribute to COLA's First Director Nancy Coleman   

The Commission took root and grew in its early years largely because of the energy and passion of its first director, Nancy Coleman.  A University of Michigan MSW social work graduate and political science MA, Nancy came to the Commission after cutting her teeth in positions such as project director for Michigan’s Citizens for Better Care and investigator for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.  Her intelligence, skills in project development, and networking ability among lawyers and other advocates serving older persons established the Commission as an important national resource.  Her convening of lawyers scattered about the country whose practices focused on aging issues helped give birth to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) in 1987 and earn her a presumptive status of the elder law lawyer’s lawyer, sans JD.  She remains the only non-lawyer granted membership, including a term on the board, in NAELA’s history. 

By the time Nancy moved on from the Commission in 2005, she had built a record of ground-breaking events and resources that helped define the field of elder law and support regulatory and practice improvements in long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, capacity and guardianship issues, and legal services delivery.  She had the ability to tap the best resources within the ABA to establish a firm foundation.  I had the pleasure of joining the Commission staff in 1984 after managing a legal aid office practice focused on seniors.  It is due to her inspiration, knowledge and passion that I reluctantly stepped into the director role of the Commission and continue to be inspired by its mission.  By the way, Nancy’s inquisitive heart is still probing new issues in her latest role as foreperson of a Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury.  She continues to shed light where it makes a difference.

--Charlie Sabatino

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