by Brad Weber
DBA Executive Director Cathy Maher recently announced her plans to retire at the end of next year. For a DBA President, this is the news that you hope to never hear. Cathy is the equivalent of a Tony Award winning Producer for a successful Broadway show. She works behind the scenes making sure that every DBA event and program runs smoothly and all the actors on stage look good. She makes our jobs easy.
Cathy joined the Dallas Bar Association back in 1978 when she was hired as an interviewer for the DBA’s Lawyer Referral Service. Over the next 37 years, Cathy successfully worked her way up through the ranks of the Association—first as the Membership Assistant, then as the Director of the Dallas Bar Foundation, later as the Associate Executive Director, and finally as the Executive Director beginning in 1994. While serving as Executive Director, Cathy worked day-in and day-out with the past 21 DBA Presidents.
The Dallas Bar Association has come a long way during Cathy’s tenure, and much of its success is directly attributable to her. When she started with the DBA, its small, cramped offices were located in the Adolphus Hotel. A year later the Association moved its headquarters to the historic Belo Mansion. By the year 2000, the DBA’s membership had grown dramatically and it was in desperate need of more space. Cathy helped lead the $14 million campaign to build the new Pavilion, which opened in 2003. Today, because of the Belo Mansion and Pavilion, the DBA is able to keep its membership dues low and provide over 400 free CLE programs for its members each year.
Cathy’s leadership as Executive Director also has contributed to the creation of several new DBA sections, committees, and programs. Those include the award-winning Law Student Professionalism program, Appealing to the Public program, Law Jam, Transition to Law Practice program, and DBA Trial Academy, just to name a few. In addition, under her guidance, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program was created as a joint venture between the DBA and Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. Through the collaborative fundraising efforts of these two organizations, over $1 million was raised last year alone for the support of DVAP and its mission of providing pro bono legal services in the Dallas area.
Now that Cathy has announced her plans to retire, I often hear from our members that “those are some big shoes to fill!” I have seen Cathy’s shoes, and in her defense, they are not that big. Figuratively speaking, though, Cathy’s shoes will be hard to fill. She has the respect and admiration of the entire DBA staff and the many DBA members who have worked with her over the years. Upon hearing the news about Cathy’s planned retirement, former DBA President Sally Crawford commented that “You have enriched so many lives through your service to the Bar, especially the lives of the DBA Presidents.” Those sentiments were shared by former DBA President Harriet Miers, who thanked Cathy “for all you have accomplished and many wonderful memories you have helped create for so many,” and by former DBA President Frank Stevenson, who said, “You have set the standard for bar executives.”
Preparing for “life after Cathy” already has begun. In her typical farsighted approach to things, Cathy assembled a detailed notebook containing a timeline and suggestions for the search process and the transition phase between Cathy and her successor. The first step in the process is the appointment of a Search Committee, which I will announce in November. That committee will be composed of current DBA officers, former DBA Presidents, and other respected bar leaders. One of the first tasks assigned to the committee will be the establishment of job qualifications that the new Executive Director should possess.
Although the details of the search process are still being finalized, it is likely that the search for Cathy’s successor will be national in scope. The position of Executive Director for the Dallas Bar Association is highly regarded among executives of non-profit organizations and should draw the interest of many qualified candidates, including some who are local. Ideally, the new Executive Director will be announced in August 2016 to allow for a sufficient transition period before Cathy officially retires.
I am hopeful that the new DBA Executive Director will possess the same work ethic, organizational skills, friendly personality, and leadership ability that Cathy has displayed over the years. As one DBA officer recently remarked, “we just need to clone Cathy.” And whoever ultimately is selected for this position, I hope that the person has large feet, because those certainly are some big shoes to fill.