By Tom Jarvis
Pamela Dodge, a name that has been synonymous with the DOVE Project for more than two decades, has announced her upcoming retirement on June 30, 2023.
Dodge has been the DOVE (Domestic Violence Emergency) Project Coordinator for 23 years. A lifelong Granite Stater, she graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1977, with a degree in retail management and merchandising. After college, she worked as a store manager for a regional retailer, then worked for Philip Morris International as a sales representative, and later became a training manager for the Weathervane clothing store.
In 1997, Dodge decided on a career change. She felt the law was interesting, so she began working on her paralegal certificate from Franklin Pierce College. Concurrently, she was hired by former NHBA Legal Services Director Virginia “Ginny” Martin as an unpaid intern for the NHBA Pro Bono Referral Program (Pro Bono).
“After probably four or five months, Ginny came to me and said, ‘we have to start paying you. You can’t keep doing this for free,’” Dodge says. “So, that’s how my career with Pro Bono started.”
Dodge was officially hired as Pro Bono Assistant in January 1998, splitting her time between doing pro bono referrals and helping former DOVE Project Coordinator Mary Searles. Two years later, Mary Searles (now the law librarian at the John W. King New Hampshire Law Library) moved on and Dodge was named DOVE Coordinator.
“It seems like a really big leap to go from what I was doing [in retail], to doing legal services, but it wasn’t,” Dodge says. “A lot of what I did for my first 20 years was mentoring new store managers and hiring young women – nurturing and training them to get them started on a career. It was taking on responsibility, and it was selling. When I look back, it was a great preparation for what I do.”
Retired NHBA Legal Services Director Ginny Martin says that when it comes to DOVE, Dodge has given it her all.
“A leader within the state’s domestic violence prevention network, and a sought-after resource by New Hampshire attorneys, Pam has been relentless in pursuing and coordinating the legal assistance that survivors require, always rising to meet the latest challenge or need with empathy, skill, and creativity,” Martin says.
The DOVE Project began in the early 1990’s as an initiative of the Pro Bono Program, in a collaborative effort with the crisis centers and volunteer attorneys throughout the state, to provide victims of domestic violence (DV) with civil emergency legal services at their final protective order hearing. It has since grown to include assistance with stalking, as well.
In 2021, the DOVE Project moved from Pro Bono to 603 Legal Aid (603LA) after Pro Bono and the Legal Advice and Referral Center merged.
“This collaboration with crisis center advocates, volunteer lawyers, DOVE staff, and other community stakeholders – we couldn’t survive without it,” Dodge says. “The impact it has on people is like a ripple effect. We help so many people, but it’s not just that one person. It’s their kids, their parents, their friends. So, when you help that one person, you’re really helping a community. It’s kind of generational. As a survivor, if you can get yourself independent and away from the abuse, what it does for your children – that generational ripple is huge.”
603LA Deputy Director Emma Sisti says they are now hiring for what they are calling Dodge’s successor, not replacement, because Dodge cannot be replaced.
“Pam is the most committed and devoted person to a project that I have seen in a long time,” Sisti says. “She lives and breathes the DOVE Project in a way that only a person who was at the inception of a project like this can do. Without her, this project would not be where it is now. It’s a real testament to her dedication, loyalty, and commitment that she’s been with it for as long as she has, and we are going to miss her so much.”
603LA Interim Executive Director Steven Scudder echoes that sentiment.
“We were really lucky to have someone so remarkable, who could be a leader in the community to advocate for the program and its services,” Scudder says. “The clients who have benefited from the services DOVE has provided owe her thanks. And frankly, the lawyers who have been trained and have had the honor of representing those clients should be grateful for all she has done to make the program as effective, efficient, and successful as it has been.”
Dodge says she has many fond memories over the years at both the NHBA and 603LA, but one of the early reminiscences that sticks out is the We Want You! advertising campaign in 2002.
A brainchild of former NHBA President Dave Nixon (1980-1981), the promotion aimed to recruit DOVE volunteers and entailed several DOVE attorneys, along with then-NHBA President Martha Van Oot (2002-2003), dressing up in an Uncle Sam costume and pointing at the camera. The headline of each ad read, “WE WANT YOU!” and the copy called on attorneys to “implement the idealism that induced you to become a lawyer.”
Dodge remembers Nixon calling her and saying, “we need to get more DOVE lawyers. We’re going to do an Uncle Sam campaign. I have a friend who is a photographer, I’ll pay for him and for the Uncle Sam outfit. You get the lawyers to come in and pose.”
“So, we did this Bar News splash,” Dodge says. “Every single Bar News had a different DOVE attorney pointing and saying we want you. Dave did his differently. He took things from all branches of the military and put it into one outfit and did a little test – name the seven things that are wrong with this picture and whoever won, Dave took them out to lunch.”
Since Dodge began coordinating the DOVE Project, she says it has grown over the years. Part of that growth can be attributed to her work partnering with UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholars (DWS) Program to train their graduates to do DOVE cases.
“One of the things I think is unique to what I’ve done with the DOVE Project is the relationship that I’ve nurtured with the law school throughout the years,” Dodge says. “But that’s really thanks to John Garvey. He approached me about working with the law school to train the Websters to do DOVE cases, and it has really grown over the years. As those years have gone by, and graduates became DOVE attorneys, we have replaced the lawyers who were doing the programming with DWS attorneys who are doing the DOVE work. So, the whole program now is Scholars teaching Scholars, teaching more Scholars to do the work.”
Attorney John Garvey, founding director of the DWS Program, says it’s hard to get Dodge to take credit for anything.
“She was the person who took [the collaboration between DOVE and DWS] by the horns,” Garvey says. “I asked her for what I thought was a favor, and she took it on as an inspired project. It’s important as part of the program for students to understand that they have an obligation – and we hope, a built-in desire – to help others who can’t afford it. Pam put in many, many hours organizing, creating the curriculum, and getting people to show up. She is marvelous and truly selfless. She does her work out of what is so clearly a commitment to help the people who need it.”
Dodge says that she has been trying to retire for several years, but the pieces never fell into place for a proper succession.
“In 2016 or 2017, I started thinking about a succession plan because it was really important to me to have the right person doing this work,” Dodge says. “Kerstin Cornell, who was part-time Assistant DOVE Coordinator, was my first attempt at building somebody into this position. Our focus was originally on intimate partner violence, and we decided to make that leap to include stalking. Kerstin helped me roll out the training for that. It’s a whole different statute, but the relief is the same.”
Cornell later departed the NHBA to become a staff attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA), but she and Dodge remain good friends. Soon after, Attorney Angelika Wilkerson-Martin took the position.
“I thought Angelika was the perfect fit to succeed me as the DOVE Coordinator,” Dodge says. “She took over the stalking thing and did a fantastic job. She became our resource with the DOVE attorneys who were calling with just a quick legal question.”
However, when the 603LA merger took place, Wilkerson-Martin assumed the role as their new DV Specialist Staff Attorney. Dodge says that DOVE and Wilkerson-Martin’s team still work very closely together.
“So, it’s been a long road toward retirement,” Dodge says. “I had hoped that I would have somebody in and trained and familiar with the attorneys, so it would be a seamless transition when I left. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t micromanage life.”
DOVE Project volunteers posing for the We Want You! recruitment campaign in 2002. Left to right: Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, Marth Van Oot, David Nixon, Patrick Hayes, and Anthony McManus. Courtesy Photos
Mary Krueger, NHLA staff attorney for the Domestic Violence Advocacy Project and member of the Task Force on Domestic Violence Cases in the New Hampshire Judicial System, says she has always valued the partnership between DOVE and the DV Advocacy Project.
“Pam has been steadfast in her commitment to ensuring that survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can flee violence safely,” Krueger says. “It’s a legacy she will be able to carry with her. It’s going to be a huge loss, but a well-deserved retirement.”
Dodge plans to do take some time to travel with her husband of 40 years before settling back down again. Whatever she does going forward, Dodge can rest easy knowing that during her career, she has helped thousands of domestic violence survivors and saved many lives and families in the process.