June 10, 2021

WAVe Presents: Generosity, Serendipity, and the Beneficial Use of Power

A Conversation with Lawyer and Civil Rights Advocate Drucilla Stender Ramey

3 min

Lady Gaga once said that “some women choose to follow men and some women choose to follow their dreams.” Although Dru Ramey came of age in the 1960s, when pursuing dreams wasn’t an option for many women, she still chose the latter. “If you’re wondering which way to go,” Dru said, citing Lady Gaga’s words in a recent conversation with Venable partner Jill Rowe, “just remember that your career will never wake up in the morning and tell you it doesn’t love you anymore.”

Following her dreams turned out to be a wise choice for Dru, who cultivated a fascinating career, which included serving as executive director and general counsel of the Bar Association of San Francisco, executive director of the National Association of Women Judges, dean emerita of Golden Gate University School of Law, and chair of the ACLU of Northern California, the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, and the board of directors of Equal Rights Advocates.

From the time Dru entered Yale law school in 1968, the first year that men could not get automatic deferments from the Vietnam war draft, leading to a surge in women acceptance rates, she knew that serendipity was going to play an important role in her life and career. She also knew, and was reminded by her parents, James Ramey, who served as AEC commissioner under President Kennedy, and the esteemed endocrinologist Dr. Estelle Ramey, that “to whom much has been given, much is expected.” And so, paying it forward, extending generosity to others, and advocating for underrepresented groups, including women, have been the hallmarks of her working life ever since.

Her commitment to helping others was galvanized by the civil rights movement and assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. These tumultuous events led Dru and some of her colleagues to start a women law students’ group to advocate for vulnerable communities. This was the first of many women’s groups that Dru has either started or facilitated throughout her life, including what she calls the “Aging Civil Rights Mothers in Law Group,” which has been active in cause advocacy for 38 years.

In her career, Dru said she consistently seeks to create opportunities for underrepresented groups. For instance, early on in her tenure at the San Francisco Bar Association, Dru conducted a survey that revealed the shockingly low numbers of both women and diverse lawyers in the legal profession. As a result, she adopted several measures to expand access. Among these efforts was raising over a million dollars in scholarship funds for people of color, passing a model sexual harassment policy, establishing flexible working schedules, and helping pass initiatives to dispense with discriminatory private clubs.

Closing out the conversation, Dru encouraged the upcoming generation of lawyers to continue advocating for the underprivileged and promoting worthy causes. “You really have to realize that the minute you went to law school you became a leader,” she explained. “As Napoleon said, ‘leaders are really dealers in hope,’ and there’s a lot of hope in the legal profession.”

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