This year’s MBA Access to Justice Awards are being dedicated to legal services luminary Nancy King, the executive director of the South Middlesex Legal Services in Framingham, who lost a 20-year battle with breast cancer on Dec. 18 at the age of 59.
State Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, will give the keynote speech at the luncheon, which is being held March 6 at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. The event will honor King posthumously with the 2008 MBA Access to Justice Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rushing, who was first elected in 1982, is second assistant majority leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. His legislative priorities include human and civil rights, the advancement of democracy, economic and housing development and providing housing and health care for all.
Rushing was an original sponsor of the gay rights bill and the chief sponsor of the law to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public schools. He is a spokesman against the restoration of the death penalty in Massachusetts. He successfully sponsored legislation to create a commission to develop a comprehensive plan to end homelessness in the commonwealth.
Honoring King’s service
King spent 30 years at South Middlesex Legal Services, which provides free civil legal aid to the low-income residents of 36 towns between Routes 128 and 495. After dramatic cutbacks in federal funding in the early 1980s, she lined up new funding sources for SMLS from grants and private donations.
King earned a reputation as a selfless advocate for the delivery of legal services to the poor, a woman who fought valiantly for critical funding in a cheerful, enthusiastic way that observers said was nearly impossible to resist. Her willingness to help out in whatever way needed was renowned, as was her warm, personal style and sense of humor.
“Nancy’s heart was extraordinary; she’s left a legacy of extraordinary deeds on behalf of the most unfortunate people,” said MBA President-elect Edward W. McIntyre. “If the true measure of a life is service to others, Nancy led an abundantly chock-full life. I think the meaning of Nancy’s life was giving meaning to the lives of others, especially the downtrodden.”
“She really did exemplify what this award is all about,” said Access to Justice Section Chair Ellen J. Zucker, of Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston. “She is a rare person and holds a rare place in people’s hearts.”
MBA Past President Kay H. Hodge, who knew King well because she was active in the Framingham and Marlborough community, said, “Nancy was just extraordinary. As we honor her, we honor a legacy.”
In a tribute on the South Middlesex Legal Services’ Web site, King is quoted explaining why she fought so hard to provide legal help for those who could not afford the legal help they needed so badly.
“Over the years, I have been moved by their courage and decency. With dignity and determination, they face the terror of domestic abuse, the fear of violence in their own neighborhoods, the threat of becoming homeless, or the anxiety of being one paycheck away from disaster.”
After graduating from Boston College Law School in 1972, King started her career as a legal aid attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., before returning to the Boston area and joining South Middlesex Legal Services as a staff attorney in 1977. She was named executive director in 1979.
King’s honors include Boston College Law School’s’ David Nelson Award for Public Interest Law (1994) and the United Way of Tri-County’s “Women of Character Award” (2003). She served on the steering committees of the Neponset Valley and MetroWest Community Health Care Coalitions and was appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court as a commissioner of the Equal Justice Commission. She also served on the boards of the MetroWest Boys and Girls Club and the South Middlesex Bar Association.
Robert Sable, executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services, said, “Nancy was astonishingly open about her struggle with cancer. But she never complained. There was no self-pity. I asked her about it once not long ago and she said: ‘You give yourself 10 minutes a day to feel sorry for yourself and then you get on with it.’ ”