Jan. 07, 2008
By DAN MARGOLIES
People choose to go to law school for any number of reasons, but it's
safe to say that Cathy Connealy's path was among the roads less traveled.
She was a social worker at the Jackson County Juvenile Court when she
was fired in 1972 for sporting a McGovern bumper sticker on her
purple pickup truck.
That inspired her to enroll at the University of Missouri-Kansas City
Law School, which years later recognized her willingness to tilt at
legal windmills with its Don Quixote Award.
Connealy, who died Dec. 29 at the age of 60 after numerous bouts with
cancer, was among the 10 founders in 1973 of one of Kansas City's
first law collectives a public interest law firm whose mission was
to pursue social justice and help ordinary people The firm, known
then as Riederer Eisberg & Walsh, survives today as Slough Connealy
Irwin & Madden.
Armed with a master's degree in taxation, Connealy ran an annual "tax
therapy" clinic for clients, but her lasting legacy was her enduring
commitment to helping the downtrodden, the disadvantaged and the needy.
Her funeral last week was attended by hundreds, including the many
clients who invariably ended up becoming her friends.
"You'll recognize yourselves," her longtime law partner, Fred Slough,
said in his eulogy. "Those of you who went on float trips in Missouri
or down the Grand Canyon, who went to the farm parties, who were part
of the old Foolkiller, the Westside Housing Organization, all the
political events, the women's movement, the equal-rights-for-all
movement, the old Westport Free Health Clinic crowd, the National
Lawyers Guild people, the peace community, Mattie Rhodes Center, the
Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Legal Aid lawyers and staff,
the Public Defenders and anti-death-penalty workers.
Connealy's clients ranged from nonprofit corporations to public
housing tenants to gay and lesbian couples. Over the course of her
legal career, she received numerous honors, including recognition as
a founder of the Rose Brooks Center for battered women and as a
founder of the Human Rights Project.
"But she never thought about awards," said Howard Eisberg, one of the
original members of Connealy's firm and now an immigration lawyer
downtown. "That never occurred to her."
In a March 1995 article on the Slough Connealy firm, Kansas City Star
reporter James Fussell began his account this way:
Let's say you need a tax attorney. What kind of person comes to mind?
Brooks Brothers suit?
Probably not a bead-wearing, granola-eating, social-working,
McGovern-voting, former bleached-blond feminist hippie wannabe who
thought Nixon was a crook and socialism never got a fair shot. But
for good or ill, that is what Cathy Connealy is.
"I probably am pretty unusual, Connealy said, stroking her love beads
in her second-floor Westport office.
Friends say Connealy's idealism remained undimmed to the end.
"She was fun-loving, she was dignified, and she was always willing to
help other people," Eisberg said. "She had a lot of compassion. She
was just a great person."
To reach Dan Margolies, call 816-234-4481 or send e-mail to