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Bar’s Executive Director Helen D. McDonald Retiring

After 42 years of professional service to the Rhode Island Bar Association and its members, our Executive Director Helen Desmond McDonald is retiring from her position as of August 2021.
Helen started her Rhode Island Bar Association career as Assistant Executive Director in 1979 and was appointed Executive Director in 1985. At that time, the Bar Association, in its rented offices, was comprised of approximately 1,800 members, a staff of three, and had four basic services: the Lawyer Referral Service, Continuing Legal Education seminars, Bar committees, and the Rhode Island Bar Journal. Under Helen’s leadership, the Rhode Island Bar Association grew in size and purpose, offering its members a law center to facilitate the delivery of educational programs, practice management services, and professional and personal benefits to its more than 6,500 members. She oversaw the administration of the budget, extensive educational programming, publications, and several public service programs, much of which is executed through the day-to-day management of a staff of 12. Helen is responsible for integrating the vision and goals of the Bar’s leadership with the management of the Association, while ensuring the Bar’s activities are in keeping with its strategic direction. Helen also served as Executive Director of the Rhode Island Bar Foundation, which manages the scholarship programs, administers the Bar’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, and funds annual grants to improve the justice system in Rhode Island.
Helen’s unique advocacy for and loyalty to her staff fostered a positive and innovative atmosphere at RIBA headquarters. She has long facilitated collaboration among staff and encouraged growth, always reminding staff of their value to the Association.
Several of Helen’s colleagues from over her many years of service highlighted their experiences working with her. It is clear to see that any Bar president or colleague who has served alongside her has quickly regarded her as a dear friend. While we are sorry to say goodbye to our friend and colleague, we wish her the very best in her life and new adventures!
According to Past Bar President J. Robert Weisberger Jr.: I have known Helen for 38 years; I met her when I was first admitted to the practice of law in 1983. She was then, and is now, a vibrant, intelligent, enthusiastic, creative, inclusive, well informed, diligent, personable and extremely effective Executive Director of the Rhode Island Bar Association who is highly regarded by both members of the Bar and the Judiciary. Helen’s leadership, without exaggeration, is among the finest I have seen anywhere in the country.
According to Past Bar President and current Bar Foundation Secretary Armando E. Batastini: I benefitted greatly from Helen’s intelligence and perspective. One abiding memory is attending conferences where the hot topics affecting Bar Associations were discussed, and being pleasantly surprised (although I should not have been) to discover that RIBA had already addressed or avoided these issues–because of Helen’s perspicacious leadership.
According to Past Bar President and Past Bar Foundation President Michael A. St. Pierre: A critical part of being an exemplary Executive Director is not only the ability to interact and motivate staff, but to interact and motivate its lawyers on the various committees and in the various bar programs. Helen has always been able to accomplish these objectives with style, commitment, and good humor.
According to Past Bar President and current Bar Foundation President Michael R. McElroy: Helen is the very definition of a true professional. She has devoted her entire working life to Bar Association activities and service to the community. She is an Executive Director whose character and integrity are unquestioned. Her vision and leadership have been demonstrated through the continued growth of programs offered to the members of RIBA, but more importantly, to the members of the public served by the RIBA and by the Rhode Island Bar Foundation.
According to Past Bar President Hon. Linda Rekas Sloan: I can confidently say that were it not for Helen pushing me into leadership positions, I would not be where I am today on the bench. Helen changed the path of my career with her confidence, guidance, and friendship.
According to Past Bar President David N. Bazar: Being President of the Rhode Island Bar Association is a heavy commitment, but Helen made it a light lift. Under Helen’s tutelage, the RI Bar Association has become a strong, self-sustaining organization. Through the years, she has cultivated and mentored a terrific staff. I know that Helen is nationally respected for the work she has done, but locally she is treasured. There is only one Helen Desmond McDonald.
According to Past Bar President and current RI Bar Foundation Vice President Victoria M. Almeida: Leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone else better.
According to Past Bar President Lauren E. Jones: Helen “recruited” me, just as she has recruited any number of the leaders of the RI Bar. I was a young lawyer who wrote an article for the Bar Journal and got an award for it. Helen got hold of me and never let go. That’s her M.O. She’s very, very good at it. Her judgment about what has been best for the Bar Association and for attorney-members practicing in Rhode Island has always been spot-on. Her commitment has been almost at the level of a fiduciary. The interests of the bar and its members have been her constant concern and she has approached it as a trustee would: “How will this help or hurt my beneficiaries (the members of the Bar Association)”?
According to Past Bar President Robert D. Oster: There are too many superlatives for me to list in our 40 year careers and friendship. Helen is the consummate Bar professional, dedicated beyond words–I know from personal experience with her. “Integrity” is another word that stands out in my thoughts of Helen. She worked incredibly hard to promote the Bar, always a strong advocate of lawyers. I saw the Bar under her leadership grow from a two-person office to a great organization, largely due to her leadership. She and I would disagree occasionally, but not often, and we always knew where each stood–straight up. I am so happy for Helen to enjoy her retirement with Brian et al.
According to Past Bar Association President Susan Leach DeBlasio: Helen has always been a leader, from her first day after elevation to the position of Executive Director to her last day before retirement, looking for innovative ways to keep the Bar Association ahead of the curve, constantly developing new programs, expanding its reach to our members, adding new benefits and services, and continually helping both the Bar Association as well as the Bar Foundation evolve into the fiscally sound and programmatically strong organizations they are today. She also encouraged and supported countless lawyers over these years, extending herself without any desire for recognition, and keeping their confidences. I was lucky to be one of them.
According to Past Bar President Lise M. Iwon: Helen is truly one in a million, and the Rhode Island Bar Association is lucky to have had her. I believe Helen’s greatest gift has been her no-nonsense, down-to-earth, discrete, but dynamic, ability to successfully manage the needs and demands of a wide range of personalities among our members and those in our Bar’s leadership positions. Helen has the commonsense ability to keep people on track, and she has had an amazing gift for bringing out the best in Bar leaders and active members, ensuring our Bar stays on course.
According to Bar President Lynda L. Laing: Helen has always been RIBA’s biggest advocate and has inspired all of us, including myself, to become active in the Bar. She has always shared her wealth of knowledge and vast experience with issues facing RIBA. I will miss her laugh and funny jokes during our meetings. Most of all, I will miss her encouraging words and helping me along the way. Congratulations Helen! RIBA has much to thank you for and now it is time for a fantastic retirement. Enjoy!