By nearly all accounts, Irene C. Olszewski was a pioneer. She was one of the first lawyers in Connecticut to focus on matters that affected gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients. And she was one of the first in the state to embrace the digital age, for years penning three separate blogs, including Attorney O's Midnight Musings and the CT Lesbian & Gay Blog.
And so the legal community was saddened to learn that Olszewski died of cancer on August 31 at age 52.
"She developed her own website. She developed her own blogs. She helped start our website. She understood social networking," said Evelyn Gryk Frolich, a lawyer whose firm, Gryk & Frolich, has taken over many of Olszewski's cases. "If I had a technology question, I would call her."
Olszewski, who graduated from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2001, practiced in East Hartford. She focused on family, probate and residential law as well as LGBT issues, and was a member of the Connecticut Bar Association, Collaborative Divorce Professionals and the National Lesbian and Gay Bar Association.
Meghan Freed, of Freed Marcroft in Hartford, described Olszewksi as someone who seemed to have an almost "limitless amount of energy." Freed said her devotion to her blogs and LGBT issues went hand in hand.
"She was an embracer [of social media]. I don't know anyone more prolific," said Freed. "Irene has been on the forefront of writing about [LGBT] issues in the state. Irene was one of the first who was really focused on LGBT clients and how the law impacted the individual."
Freed said Olszewski tended to "advocate for the individual rather than the whole," meaning that she focused on personal matters involving gay couples, like adoptions and estate issues, while letting others take the lead on bigger legal issues, such as the push for same-sex marriage.
Freed's firm is also picking up some of Olszewski's clients. "All her former clients I have met were deeply affected by the loss of her on a personal level," Freed said.
Attorney Dena Castricone, of Murtha Cullina, came to know Olszewski through CABO, the Connecticut Alliance for Business Opportunities, the LGBT, chamber of commerce-like organization that Castricone founded. Olszewski's death "is certainly a huge loss to the LGBT community," Castricone said. "She was committed to serving the community and had done great work throughout the years. She will be deeply missed."
Evelyn Frolich said that she met Olszewski about 12 years ago at a Manchester Bar Association Christmas party. One of the first things she learned was that Olszewski played in a polka band. But she didn't know until after Olszewski died that she had formed her first band way back when she was 10 years old. "There were a lot of people at her funeral who were in polka bands she had been involved in," Frolich said.
In addition to her legal practice, Olszewski was a composer, arranger and producer who released six CDs, including two Christmas CDs. When Olszewski came to Frolich's family law class for paralegals at Manchester Community College, she performed a rap song about the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that stopped same-sex partners from receiving federal marriage benefits until it was declared unconstitutional this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It was so much more fun for the students. They enjoyed it," Frolich said.
Frolich said that she and Olszewski are both of Polish ancestry, which is a culture where "women can do anything." On a more serious note, Frolich said that Olszewski taught her a lot about gay and lesbian law and the proper terminology to use.
"She was a very strong person and her entertainment background lent a lot to her style as an attorney," Frolich said. "She [also] had a sense of the spiritual world around her and she would attribute things to family members that went before her."
Frolich visited Olszewski every two weeks when she was sick. "It was difficult for her to die young. She had a lot left she wanted to do."•