Fierce, sharp, and determined, she is like a lion in the courtroom. Her prey is the people who have victimized seniors in their care whom they should have loved and respected. Her sharp, tactical report to the jury is not out of savage pleasure, but rather a strong sense of justice. Her strong, unwavering approach of ensuring justice is served is not out of spite, but rather out of compassion and a gentle kindness for a group of people invisible to most of the American society. Her arguments are not just for her specific clients, but for the millions of victims whose voices are not heard – either because they are ignored or because they do not know how to be heard. She not only speaks for those in the present, but also for the seventy-seven million baby-boomers who are fast approaching senior status. She is trying to forge a path for everyone in America – for we all will ultimately age.
Her name is Marie-Therese Connolly.
When she entered Stanford University to become a medical student, her plans were to follow in her parents’ footsteps – her father a cardiologist, and her mother a psychiatrist. However, her plans changed drastically when she took a Mental Health Law class in which she became aware of the vague and nearly ignored problems present in the health sector of America. This class would introduce her to her life-long mission and passion. After transferring to law, graduating from Stanford in 1981, and taking on a judicial clerkship, she was introduced to problems being brought to the courts and the national Senate on the grievances happening in nursing homes – bringing her full circle to what had ignited her passion for law and justice in the first place. She would start working in that particular area of law as she felt she could do the most good in that field.
Despite eight years of waiting for the Elder Justice Act to be passed, her perseverance has allowed her to come off the victor. However, to have it implemented into society will take more work and time to get the National Legislation to act on it. In the meantime, she has established an activist program called Life Long Justice, to try to gather and share the information that she and her colleagues are collecting to help in the war against elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Connolly believes so strongly in her cause that she has made many sacrifices – including leaving a paying job to take on a career that she feels is far more important for her family, community, and country. She is not only focusing on the negative aspects of this problem – she is focusing on the positive solutions and putting them into practice.
In 2011, Connolly won the ranking of MacArthur Fellow, which comes with the grant of $500,000. Relieved and grateful for the break, she plans on using it to further her agenda on helping the elderly by bringing awareness to elder abuse and ageism in the United States for the next five years.
“We can’t alleviate all the suffering,” Connolly says, “but we can make it a lot better than it is.” She believes that if people were to start talking more about the problems against seniors and having independent groups start working together to tackle the obstacles and work out solutions, then American society would be a much better place for both the present generations and future generations.