Honoring a great NH citizen

Claudia Damon’s public service to the community and her profession has been extraordinary

This column has sought to highlight great New Hampshire citizens and events over the years. One of the nicest honors to have been created in recent years was by the NH Bar Foundation of the Nixon-Zachos Award, honoring the memory of David Nixon and Kimon Zachos, two members of the bar who met at Wesleyan University, were friends throughout their entire lives, and contributed to the state in so many ways.

In establishing the award, the foundation missed one significant point. Their “partner-in-crime” in advancing the causes in which they believed was Jack B. Middleton, another prominent New Hampshire attorney who has contributed in so many ways.

When the award was created in 2016, it was appropriate and inevitable that Middleton was the first winner of the award, one which many believe should be called the “Nixon-Zachos-Middleton Award.”

This year, on May 10 at the McAuliffe Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, the 2017 Nixon-Zachos Award was presented to Claudia Cords Damon of Concord.

She is a natural recipient of the award. In selecting her, the committee found someone who fit the mold of Nixon, Zachos and Middleton, who commonly referred to themselves as the “Committee to Do the Right Thing.”

Claudia was born in Germany in 1946 and came with her family to the United States in 1952. At a time when the role of immigrants is being questioned in the country, her selection was even more meaningful.

In 1973, Claudia Damon, then a second-year law student at Boston University Law School, was the first woman to be a summer clerk at Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, one of the largest law firms in the state. She was there largely because of the efforts of Kimon Zachos, who recognized the need to include women in his firm as they were beginning to be included in others. As such, Claudia Damon was a pioneer.

As the first woman attorney, associate and then partner at the firm, she was a role model for the many women lawyers to come later. It was not always easy in those days. Mr. Sheehan, the senior partner in his 70s during the summer Claudia was working there, remarked how great it was that a certain less prestigious law school than she was attending was “taking women,” and when told she was at Boston University Law School, was somewhat surprised.

Looking back on it, one of the more comical vignettes from that summer was a First Amendment case the firm was defending that involved an allegedly pornographic movie being shown in Manchester, causing the arrest of the theater proprietor. When the judge presiding over the case refused to have the movie screened as long as a woman was present, Claudia refused to leave and, after a few minutes of standoff, the movie was viewed.

Those were the days when attorneys regularly referred to others as “brothers,” a practice long abandoned as the number of women in the profession has increased.

Claudia Damon’s public service to the community and her profession is extraordinary. For years, she chaired the Concord School Board, was a founding member of the Hillsborough County Women’s Bar Association, served on the Board of NH Legal Assistance, chaired the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grants committee, was an active member of the bar, served as a bar examiner, a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, served on the boards of the Manchester YMCA, the Business Committee for the Arts and many, many more.

In her personal life, she married Edward Damon, whom she met in law school, a native of Tamworth from a prominent New Hampshire family in his own right. Their two children accomplished a great deal and continue to do so.

On a personal note, Claudia’s gracious concern and friendship for my family and me, starting with a party after the second night of the bar exam in 1973 and continuing through an invitation to her wedding and so many more personal events, has been extraordinarily meaningful.

For many, who at the Red River Theatres years ago had the opportunity to see the accomplishments of Claudia’s family in Germany battling Nazi oppression, her presence in New Hampshire was even more meaningful. “Surviving Hitler: A Love Story,” is that inspiring tale, and a film well worth renting and watching. The Bar Foundation did well in honoring Claudia Damon and all of New Hampshire should note her contributions.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: Cook on Concord, Opinion