Carolyn “Carrie” Witt wasn’t a lawyer, but she was well known in the New Haven legal community.
For 17 years, she was the executive director of the New Haven County Bar Association, where she helped organize numerous bar events and programs. Witt, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1997, passed away on Dec. 23. She was 50 and lived in Hamden. Her husband, Tom, had died just two years earlier.
“She was the straw that stirred the drink for the New Haven County Bar Association,” said New Haven lawyer William F. Dow III, who had worked with Witt to organize a number of bar events over the years. “She was the backbone of that organization. She made it run. She was creative, she was upbeat, she was positive and she was persistent. And she was universally respected for those qualities.”
Witt led a team of four staffers in performing the administrative functions of the 1,400-member bar organization, including the management of its $500,000 budget. Working closely with its volunteer board, Witt proposed many initiatives that sought to increase the size and scope of the organization.
One of Witt’s better known initiatives was to create suburban sections for the NHCBA in Guilford, Meriden, Wallingford and other New Haven area towns. She also kept the bar association up to speed with social media efforts by creating a Facebook page and Twitter account. Most recently, she was working to make all communications in the office paperless.
“She was the heart and soul of the organization,” said Sung-Ho Hwang, a New Haven immigration attorney who is president of the NHCBA. “We’re trying to reinvent the association for the 21st century and she was really the spearhead for that. She got us started using technology in the bar association office, to make people less reliant on paper. She was also instrumental in really trying to get young members involved.”
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Witt was born in New York City on Jan. 12, 1962. She graduated from Greenwich High School and then from the University of Virginia, where she majored in medieval history and drama. Her first job in the legal profession was a paralegal with David Polk in New York, followed by paralegal work for the prosecutors in the Iran-Contra case in Washington, D.C.
In the early 1990s, she went to work for Wiggin and Dana, where she met her husband, who was an attorney with the firm. In addition to her position with the bar association, Witt was an avid gardener and an active member of the New Haven Junior League, serving as its president from 2002 to 2003.
“The association is a small office, and her imprint is everywhere,” said Irene Jacobs, immediate past president of the New Haven County Bar Association, and a partner with Jacobs & Jacobs. Pat Kaplan, who just retired as the executive director of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, has agreed to act as interim executive director, Jacobs said.
Witt pushed the bar group’s members to give back to the community in ways that sometimes went beyond directly benefiting the legal profession, including raising $15,000 annually for a homeless shelter in New Haven. When Hurricane Sandy hit the coastal areas of southern Connecticut especially hard, Witt opened up the office for any member who needed a place to work while power outages were being restored.
“She was very kind,” Jacobs said. “She wanted every lawyer to do the best they could do, and she accomplished that by being incredibly supportive. It’s shocking that she’s gone.”
A celebration of Carrie’s life will be held on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 2 p.m. at the Trinity Episcopal Church on the New Haven Green, to be followed by a reception at the Graduate Club. Arrangements are in care of Beecher & Bennett Funeral Home, 2300 Whitney Ave., in Hamden.