By Tom Jarvis

OPG Executive Director Lisabritt Solsky Stevens (left) and former OPG Executive Director Linda Mallon at her retirement reception at the Barn at Bull Meadow in Concord on March 14. Photo by Tom Jarvis

On Thursday, March 14, more than 100 people gathered at the Barn at Bull Meadow in Concord to honor Linda Mallon, the esteemed former executive director of the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). After four decades of steadfast dedication and service, Mallon announced her retirement in February, marking the conclusion of an era defined by her profound commitment to advocacy and guardianship.

Throughout her career, Mallon has been an unwavering advocate for the rights and welfare of those unable to protect themselves, leaving an indelible imprint on the landscape of public service. Under her guidance, the OPG has blossomed into a bastion of support and protection for vulnerable individuals, a testament to Mallon’s visionary leadership and tireless advocacy.

“There’s no doubt the retirement celebration will stand out as one of the most memorable events of my life,” Mallon reflects. “I was in the company of so many people who are special to me and on the receiving end of their expressions of appreciation for my service. I’m grateful beyond words and honestly a little overwhelmed.”

Following cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the reception, dinner was served while several of Mallon’s colleagues lauded her myriad achievements over her 40 years of service. Scott Spradling, principal of Spradling Group and former political director for WMUR-TV, served as the master of ceremonies, introducing each speaker, including OPG Board Chair Roger Jobin, OPG Guardian Supervisor Todd Strugnell, Kimi Nichols Center CEO Joe Freeman, and Circuit Court Administrative Judge David King.

“Some lawyers go to law school because they want to go work in a big firm and make lots of money,” Judge King says. “For someone to get out of law school and devote an entire 40-year career to a nonprofit serving people who need help and can’t take care of themselves is remarkable to me. Linda has dedicated her entire career to public service and providing protection and advocacy for literally thousands of people who can’t advocate for themselves. She is a force of nature in the guardianship field. She is well recognized, not only in New Hampshire, but around the country for her knowledge and expertise in guardianship matters. New Hampshire is a small state, but we have a few people who stand out on the national level and Linda Mallon is certainly one of those in the guardianship arena.”

Mallon took the podium after the speakers concluded, expressing gratitude to them and several others with whom she had worked throughout her tenure.

“I couldn’t be happier to be sharing this celebration of my retirement and the 45th anniversary of the OPG with such a special group of family, friends, and colleagues,” Mallon declared at the reception. “Forty years ago, I was a 28-year-old law school graduate seeking a career blending law and public service. My dream job was to advocate for vulnerable people and support them in seeing their own dreams realized. I saw an ad in the Concord Monitor describing the public guardian position and it seemed too good to be true. Well, four decades later, apparently it was that good. And it has been the privilege of a lifetime.”

In 1977, Mallon graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut. After graduating, she deliberated on two separate paths.

“I had considered becoming a social worker, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a law degree would be more likely to give me the necessary knowledge and power to do what I wanted to do,” she says.

While attending Franklin Pierce Law Center, Mallon clerked for New Hampshire Legal Assistance under Dick Cohen and John MacIntosh, who led the Institutional Law Project during the Laconia State School lawsuit and the deinstitutionalization movement in the state. The suit, resulting in the closure of the Laconia State School (also known as the New Hampshire School for the Feeble-Minded), marked a significant milestone in the state’s history representing a momentous step toward promoting the rights and dignity of individuals with developmental disabilities and their integration into society.

“To have been a witness to the magnificent efforts of Dick and John and others, and to see firsthand some of these people walking out the door into community residences in their communities of origin, reclaiming their lives in some cases, and having a chance to live their best lives – it really was a profound experience for me,” Mallon says.

The growing awareness of the substandard conditions at Laconia State School and the evolution of community-based service delivery systems for those with developmental disabilities and mental illness led to the establishment of OPG in 1979 as a statewide organization providing guardianship services to individuals who didn’t have family or friends available to serve in that capacity.

Mallon received her JD in 1982 and then worked for New England Nonprofit Housing Development Corporation for two years before joining the OPG in 1984.

“I started at OPG as a public guardian, which was great to get that foundation,” Mallon recalls.

A few years later, Michael Casasanto, founding executive director of the OPG and one of the first two original public guardians in the state, appointed Mallon as his deputy director. After Casasanto’s retirement in 1999, Mallon assumed the role of executive director.

Throughout her 25 years in that position, she maintained a small caseload “to keep in touch with the real world.”

The OPG has experienced significant growth since its inception, largely attributable to Mallon’s vigorous efforts.

“We started with two and a half staff members serving just three individuals in 1979 and have grown to 53 serving nearly 1,200 in 2024,” she says. “We also transitioned from a state agency to a nonprofit contracting with the state to serve a wide array of individuals, along with our private work.”

In addition to her efforts with the OPG, Mallon served on the boards of the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire and the National Guardianship Association.

She was also appointed by Governor John Lynch to serve on the New Hampshire Incapacitated Adult Fatality Review Committee, established in January 2008 to study the incidence and causes of deaths among incapacitated adults and recommend enhancements to policies, practices, and services.

Mallon is succeeded by new OPG Executive Director Lisabritt Solsky Stevens, who brings a wealth of relevant experience to the position.

Solsky Stevens previously worked as the chief government relations and compliance officer at Easter Seals, the vice president of strategy and corporate development at Granite State Independent Living, the executive director of Well Sense Health Plan, the senior operations administrator for the State of New Hampshire, general counsel for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and as a staff attorney at Merrimack Valley Legal Services.

“I am delighted that Lisabritt is the new executive director,” Mallon says. “[During the interview process], she was checking all the boxes in terms of what I was looking for – which was not me. I wasn’t looking for somebody who had what I had brought to the table. It’s time for OPG to be led by someone who has a similar but different skill set. She is going to really help OPG grow and evolve into the organization of the future. She has a diverse background and variety of experience, all of which is relevant to the work of OPG. She also has the heart, the skill set, and the commitment to social justice and public service that I was looking for. So, I’m confident that she is the right leader for OPG.”

Solsky Stevens remarks that she and Linda embarked on similar paths in their formative years.

Circuit Court Administrative Judge David King speaking about Linda Mallon at her retirement reception on March 14. Photo by Lauren Gilman

“Linda and I are a lot alike in that it was a coin flip about whether we were going to get an MSW or a law degree,” Solsky Stevens says. “We both opted for the law degree but always leaned hard into public interest-minded, mission-driven law. Linda really was a real trailblazer in New Hampshire. She really helped to reveal a very different path for people who want to use that degree, that knowledge for the greater good. Her 40 years of service created this opportunity for me, and I thank her for trusting me with all this.”

When asked about her objectives as the new executive director, Solsky Stevens underscores the significant unmet needs within the community and expresses her intention to collaborate with stakeholders, including the courts, DHHS, and others to develop strategies for the OPG to address these gaps.

“I also want to be more strategic and forward-thinking,” she says. “We have some antiquated processes and systems, so I really want to modernize a lot of our internal operations that can help us work smarter, not harder. I also want to do some awareness raising. A lot of people don’t know what OPG is or what we do. And there is also some skepticism around guardianship services. The Free Britney movement did us no favors. There have been a couple negative adaptations on Netflix about very unprofessional guardians that take advantage of their wards and that could not be farther from the truth here. We are absolutely in the dignity business.”

When questioned about her retirement plans, Mallon suggests that she may reassess her situation after dedicating time to herself.

“I will take some time to just decompress,” Mallon says. “I feel like I need to take time to recalibrate my nervous system. I’m going to miss my work and will come back to some version of it, but I’m going to take this year to be a grandma, a daughter, and a mom. And to do the things that I keep saying I’m going to do once I retire.”

Mallon continues: “At some point, I will seek more. I now have an emeritus status with the Center for Guardianship Certification. It’s quite likely I’ll get involved on a volunteer basis with that organization, as well as with the National Guardianship Association. I will need purpose and opportunities to contribute. I don’t have a grand plan, though. I think part of that is that I know I need a break and part of it is the circumstances of my life with my first grandchild.”

As Mallon embarks on the next phase of her life, her legacy of compassion, integrity, and unwavering dedication will undoubtedly endure within the OPG and beyond, inspiring all who have had the privilege of witnessing her remarkable contributions.