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Sarah Anthony Sarah Anthony: On The Road to Public Service

May 1, 2001-- On a bright June morning in 1983, 18-year-old Sarah Anthony clambered into one of two old Plymouth Valiants idling in a driveway in West Hartford, Conn. Piloted by University of Virginia graduates Hugh Hegyi and Bee Cumby, the two cars would carry Anthony, 3-year-old Aaron Hegyi and 1-week-old Cara Hegyi, a small library of Dr. Seuss books, one dog, two cats, and a household packed into two U-Haul trailers on an eight-day, 2,000-mile, cross-country trip to a Navaho Reservation in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

The U.Va. graduates -- Hegyi (Law, ‘79) and Cumby (Medicine, ‘80) -- were embarking on new careers. He planned to establish a legal-aid office, and she had accepted a job in an Indian health-services office. Both would be living on the reservation and working with Navahos near Window Rock, Ariz., capital of the Navaho nation.

Anthony, who had lived a comfortable life in central Connecticut and had never traveled farther than Washington, D.C., embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. This month, she graduates from the U.Va. School of Law.

"On that trip, my eyes were opened to a whole part of the world I had never seen," said Anthony, now 35. "We drove through cornfields in Iowa and wide open spaces in the Midwest. We heard the wind tear through Oklahoma and felt the heat in Texas. The landscape grew brown and dry under a huge blue sky and bright sun."

"That trip cemented in me, deep in my bones, a desire to commit to a career helping others," Anthony said.

Even earlier, as a teen, Anthony sought ways to serve, beginning with caring for severely retarded adults, which she did for five years. At an Easter Seal Society program in Hebron, Conn., in 1985, a Vietnam veteran challenged her to pursue more far-reaching ways of helping others.

The trip west instilled a desire in her to live outside Connecticut and attend college in Arizona. Her startled parents prevailed on her to enroll in a college closer to home, and they compromised on Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

At Carleton, Anthony studied with Paul Wellstone, then a political science professor and now a U.S. senator, who taught such classes as "Grassroots Movements and Protest Politics."

Anthony graduated from college in 1988 with an interdisciplinary major in Latin American studies. Her major allowed her to study Spanish (spending a semester in Madrid), history, politics, economics, archeology and religion. Among her courses was one taught by the well-known liberation theologist, Robert McAfee Brown, which examined the efforts liberal Catholic priests were making in Latin America to hasten social, economic and political change.

The summer after college, Anthony set off alone on a three-month trip through Central America. Traveling by plane, bus and on foot, she visited El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, wearing a backpack and armed with only her college Spanish and a notebook. She was swept away in the revolutionary fervor of the times, but learned she was better suited for other struggles.

"I realized there were things I could do at home," Anthony said.

With Wellstone’s help, she landed a job as a grassroots organizer in Billings, Mont., where she worked with a poor neighborhood on the south side of town composed mostly of Native Americans and whites.

Two accomplishments from those days stand tall in Anthony’s memory. Working with Montana People’s Action, she nurtured neighborhood leaders for more than two years. Finally, with her encouragement, they petitioned the city for a stoplight at Jackson Street and State Avenue, a dangerous intersection and elementary-school crossing. The stoplight was installed.

The second accomplishment concerned another group with which she was involved, the Billings Coalition for Human Rights. When a local Ku Klux Klan member threw a brick through a Jewish family’s front window in December 1993, the task force, which she chaired, printed and distributed 10,000 drawings of a menorah around the city. People of all faiths posted the menorahs in the windows of their homes that year in a show of solidarity that made national news.

After working for more than a decade in the Billings area, Anthony realized that grassroots organizing was personally satisfying and could be effective, but it was limited in scope. She began to look for ways to have more impact.

When Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a history professor at the University of Virginia, spoke in Billings at an event the human rights group sponsored, Anthony approached him and asked about law school. He encouraged her to pursue public-interest law at U.Va., which she did.

Law school hasn’t been easy. Anthony has missed the wide-open spaces of Montana and the support of a close-knit group of friends. Dyslexia has compounded the difficulty of keeping up with a heavy reading load.

But she has persevered. Anthony won a $15,000 Mortimer Caplin and Linda A. Fairstein Public Service Fellowship, which provided tuition assistance for her final year in law school and will supplement her salary for two years after graduation, enabling her to take a low-paying job in public-interest law.

Upon graduation, Anthony will join the Fair Trial Initiative, a small group of young lawyers in Chapel Hill, N.C., who are concerned that the public defense provided to indigent defendents charged with capital murder -- and facing the death penalty -- falls short of what the authors of the U.S. Constitution intended.

"Did you know that, on average, defense attorneys have only three hours to prepare for each capital case?" Anthony asks. "That is woefully inadequate representation."

She plans to do something about it.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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