Remembering Steve Xanthopolous

Editor’s note: Steve Xanthopolous, former Executive Director of West Tennessee Legal Services, passed away on June 25, 2018. We asked Steve’s former and our current colleague, Linda Seely, to share her thoughts about Steve for our blog. 

By: Linda Seely, Director, ABA Dispute Resolution Section

In some respects, it seems that writing this, a tribute to my friend and colleague Steve Xanthopoulos should write itself. But my heart is heavy and my thoughts regarding Steve don’t come easy off my keyboard.

I first met Steve at a conference of legal aid providers. Every year the legal aid programs gather for several days of CLE programs, meetings of like-minded advocates, and to plan for the future. As is often the case, the meetings were sometimes pedantic, sometimes just plain boring. That is, until Steve showed up. This was a man who in many ways embodied a striking contradiction. He was whip smart- and he could out BS anyone in the room. But he was also a man with a big heart, a passion for justice, and an eye for making money. Under his leadership, the tiny legal aid program out of Jackson, Tennessee had a huge budget, owned three buildings, and had a national presence that some of the larger programs couldn’t even begin to emulate. The program didn’t focus on impact litigation, but instead focused its limited staff resources on big picture policy issues that could be advocated for outside the courtroom, where often times more impact could be had.

When Steve walked in the room, everything lit up. He had a great sense of humor, fun, and adventure. With Steve around, you never knew where you were going to end up or what you were going to do, whether it was cutting across 7 lanes of traffic on the New Jersey turnpike with him at the wheel and the car careening wildly, to a 2 am foray into the harbor in Baltimore for Greek food and a glass of ouzo, to rolling on the floor with laughter when he dressed up in his ‘special outfit’ (some of you may know of what I speak; the rest will have to email me for more).

Steve’s staff loved him. He cared about us both as advocates and as people. He cared when someone hurt and would support you when things fell apart in your life. He cared about the clients, and was always available when they needed him to be. He made sure we, the staff, put the clients first and foremost.

He lived his life to the fullest, for that I am grateful and glad. But I sure as heck will miss him.

You can read Steve’s obituary here. Please feel free to leave your memories of Steve in the comments.

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