MY BRIEF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, I followed the traditional path of public elementary and secondary education and matriculated to a small liberal arts women’s college called Chatham College in Pittsburgh, PA, graduating in 1980 with a major in Art History, largely due to the influence of my parents who were both art museum professionals.
As a youth, my parents instilled upon me an interest in public service. I started volunteering at the Dayton Recycling Center when it opened in 1970, when I was 11 years old, and worked there through high school. The experience indelibly impressing upon me the importance of protecting our planet.
Photo is from a clipping from the Dayton Daily News in 1972.
Money for Old Tires
John DeNaples, 13, hands old tire up to Suzy Colt, 14. The Patterson Blvd. Recycling Center this past week end was giving 5 cents per old tire. The rubber will be reprocessed and used for something else.
The something else was mulch for landscaping, which in and of itself had its pros and cons.
My other youthful passion was horse-back riding, probably because of my last name. I went to a ranch camp in southern Ohio every summer from 1970-1976 as a camper, counselor in training, and junior counselor. During and just after college I worked in various capacities in the racehorse industry in Lexington, KY, which led me to a job on a private horse farm in Warner, New Hampshire in 1983. That is when I fell in love with New Hampshire.
Photo: Me on White Tornado at Ranch Camp riding/jumping English with a Western bridle (we improvised), 1973.
After a few years of betwixt and between, I ended up going to law school in Dayton, Ohio, graduating in 1989 and moving back to New Hampshire to begin my career as a lawyer.
My legal education opened my world to a framework of behavior and rules that if followed results in justice and equality for all. I came out as a lesbian in law school and discovered a world where differences were not embraced. In fact, it was a dangerous world in which to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and I resolved to join the fight for freedom from discrimination and equal justice under the law. One of my favorite classes in law school was Constitutional Law, which provided a strong basis for my future advocacy.
When I moved to New Hampshire, it was one of two states that prohibited gays and lesbians from being adoptive or foster parents. I was determined to change that. In order to do that, I joined a well-organized group of activists in Portsmouth, NH which introduced an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city. The organization was called The Open Door City Coalition. We failed in our mission, but the movement grew to become a statewide effort and in 1998 the state added “sexual orientation” to its law against discrimination, planting the seed for more civil rights advancements to come.
In 1999, the anti-gay adoption/foster parent law was repealed. In 2007, a civil unions law was passed and took effect Jan. 1, 2008. By mid-May of 2008, over 300 same-sex couples were civilly united. Since Jan. 1, 2010, same-sex marriage has been legal in NH. In 2018, gender identity was added to the law against discrimination.
I was certainly proud of the work we did to further the rights of the LBGTQIA+ community, but that work was ancillary to my legal work assisting victims/survivors of domestic violence. The work started in 1990 when I became involved with A Safe Place in Portsmouth. The organization was a women-run feminist collective where all decisions were made through consensus building. I learned the importance of listening to all points of view in a mindful way before reaching decisions, which was the opposite of what most women experienced in homes where domestic violence and upheaval prevailed.
The highlight of my legal career happened when I, with the help of a vast community of supporters, obtained a conditional pardon from Governor Steve Merrill for June Briand in 1996. June had pled guilty to killing her violently abusive husband and was serving a 15-years to life sentence for her crime. Our petition for conditional pardon claimed the battered woman defense, which the Governor and Executive Council unanimously found to be the case and June was released from prison five years early. The case received national attention, raising awareness about the consequences of domestic violence and leading to reforms in the laws that benefited women down the road.
I took a hiatus from the law to care for my elderly mother during the last year of her life and then to settle her estate. As a result, I was in between opportunities when Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast, enabling me to immediately sign up as a volunteer with the American Red Cross and spend the next six months providing housing, food, and logistical assistance to the displaced residents in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. This gave me first-hand experience of the consequences of systemic racism that had existed for decades in the south.
The work in the south inspired me to pursue a career as a professional volunteer with the Peace Corps. As I was awaiting my assignment to work in Africa, a friend experienced a medical emergency and I dropped everything to help care for her. I ended up staying for over 11 years working as her and her husband’s farm caretaker and their personal caregiver.
I was ready for retirement when that job reached its natural conclusion in 2017 and Whitefield provided an affordable option of a nice home on a few acres in the woods and amongst the mountains to settle down and work on my fledgling writing career. I became a regular contributor to the Concord Monitor’s opinion and forum pages, commenting on an eclectic range of subjects and issues, keeping my nose deep in the news and political wranglings of the state, country and world.
Jumping in the political arena seems to be a natural transition in my life at this time. I still have the energy and desire to add to my career in public service, shifting from advocacy and activism to becoming a part of the drafting, revising, tweaking and passage of the laws that serve as the basis for an orderly society.