Past Executive Directors image 1

In Memoriam

Helen K. Pulsifer

(KCBA Executive Director 1980-1989)

KCBA is sad to announce that Helen K. Pulsifer passed away July 1, 2016. She served as the second executive director of the bar from 1980-1989. A memorial service will be held Sunday, July 17, 2016, at 1:00pm at 10000 - 48th NE, Seattle.

A copy of her Seattle Times obituary is available.

To learn more about Helen's original appointment as executive director, read an excerpt from the November 1980 Bar Bulletin.

Finally, KCBA reprints below the profile written about Helen on the occasion of her 1989 retirement. Thank you for your service to KCBA, Helen.


Seattle King County Bar Association
March 1989 Bar Bulletin

By Barbara Heavey

The dictionary defines an era as a period of time considered in terms of noteworthy and characteristic events, developments, (or) individuals. An era is ending at SKCBA as Helen Pulsifer leaves at the end of March after a decade as Executive Director. "As Bar Presidents come and go, the sinew that holds the association together is the Executive Director," said Nancy Gibbs, SKCBA President from 1985-1986. Gibbs who was on the Board of Trustees when Helen came to SKCBA notes that the association has made great strides under Helen. "She convinced us that we could improve our programs and always encouraged us to do better than we were doing," Gibbs noted.

Helen came to the Bar in 1978 as assistant director, becoming executive director after the retirement of Helen Geisness. She brought with her a long history of social and political activism and volunteerism. She had served on the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters, the Board of Trustees of the Municipal League of Seattle and King County where she was Chair of the County Operations Committee and the Board of Directors of the Council of Planning Affiliates (COPA) of the United Way.

She found time to help lobby the state legislature on behalf of the League of Women Voters and the Municipal League to establish the Optional Municipal Code and to give budgeting authority to Seattle mayors. She served on the Mayor's Citizen Advisory Budget Committee, arranged for and moderated candidate interviews and issue panels on local TV stations and served as Vice Chair of COPA's Task Force on Sexual Minorities.

Her volunteer work, however, did not end upon assuming the administrative leadership of a volunteer association. Since coming to SKCBA she has served on the Board of Washington Literacy, including a term as president and the City of Seattle's Fair Campaign Practices and Ethics Board.

A lifelong resident of the Northwest, Helen attended Bryant Elementary School and Roosevelt High School. She received a BA from the University of Washington where she pursued Far Eastern studies and economics.

"She is very well regarded in community circles which has been helpful to the association," notes SKCBA President Fred Butterworth who was a contemporary of Helen's at the University. "Many community organizations know about SKCBA because they know and respect Helen," adds former president Wayne Blair. "She has given the organization an increased visibility and presence within the community that it did not have before her."

When Helen came to SKCBA there were only about eight employees; today there are 24 full time equivalent positions. "Her term as executive director has seen the largest growth of the association in terms of membership, staff and level of activity," says Blair. Today SKCBA staff assists 25 committees and ten sections as well as 13 Young Lawyer Division (YLD) committees. Pro bono programs have expanded to include the Volunteer Legal Services Program; Domestic Violence and Family Law Programs; the Self Help Plus Program for dissolutions, child custody and support assistance; the special assistance program for Cubans detained at McNeil Island; the LEAP Immigration project; and a new AIDS Referral Project. YLD programs include the highly acclaimed Neighborhood Legal Clinics Program, the Federal Civil Rights pro bono panel, the Law Day legal clinics and the Washington Lawyers Practice Manual.

Services to members and the legal community include an expanded BAR BULLETIN sent to all King County attorneys, West Law access, group disability insurance, access to VISA credit and a new travel program. The association even runs a for profit subsidiary providing legal placement services for office support at a lower fee than other placement services.

Helen would be the last person to claim credit for any of these programs. "The time commitment of the volunteers has been tremendous." According to Helen, "The members are concerned with their own profession and making it more competent. It is very exciting and rewarding to work with people who are dedicated to issues."

"Her ability to work with lawyer volunteers is amazing," notes Butterworth. "Her bottomless enthusiasm was an incentive to all of the Bar leaders," observes Gibbs. "She was always cheerful and enthusiastic about all programs from changing the BAR BULLETIN to expanding pro bono and lawyer referral programs." "She had a good sense of vision for the organization," Blair adds. "She didn't just sit back and wait for the Board to think of programs. She is strongly motivated to help the organization develop." "She was constantly feeding ideas and information from other Bars," says Ann Kruse, YLD President from 1983-1984. "Her long hours and hard work made some programs successful that would not have been successful," advises Butterworth.

Young lawyers have been of particular interest to Helen. "One of my greatest pleasures has been the growth and impact of the YLD," she recently stated. Her impact on the Division shows. The Division won first place for comprehensive Young Lawyers Section programs for 1984-1985 from the YLD of the American Bar Association. "The award is a tremendous tribute to Helen," states Marc Boman, SKCBA Trustee and past president of YLD. "I happened to be president the year that the programs came to recognition but a lot of the honor must be attributed to Helen for organizing the volunteer lawyers and staff to develop the programs over the years."

"Helen is one of those rare people who are regarded fondly by everyone," observed First Vice President Stew Cogan, who has worked with her since he was assistant editor of the BAR BULLETIN eleven years ago. "She freely gives credit where it is due and doesn't take any for herself." "She is very flexible," adds Blair, "she had a new president every year with a different personal agenda and ideas. She has been extremely dedicated to SKCBA as an organization, not just as a job."

Her coordination of and contribution to a volunteer network has been great. "She is able to keep on top of everything that is going on," according to Kruse. "She kept millions of details in her head about what committees were doing and communicated that information to other committees and people so that you didn't get into other people's territory and duplicate efforts or drop the ball." "She has such an intense interest in the things that the Bar is doing," observes Matt Sayre, Second Vice President, who has worked with Helen on numerous committee projects over the years. "She is personally involved in every committee If you ask her about anything we are doing, she knows it." Caroline Davis, SKCBA Secretary and former editor of the BAR BULLETIN added, "She is more tuned into what is happening in the legal community than many lawyers."

>Reflecting back on the decade, Helen notes that one of her greatest pleasures has been the people with whom she has worked. "It has been a great staff,'" she said. With the relatively low salary budget she has had to hire people without a great deal of work experience. "It has been a pleasure to see people grow in their jobs and expand their skills. They learn a lot about the community and are very loyal to the association." "Unlike some organizations the staff is friendly and wants to help you," observes Davis. "There is a sense that they are there to serve the membership. You never get the feeling that you are disrupting their routine."

"She has always shown a lot of confidence in staff,'" says Leah Iraheta former assistant director who worked with Helen for over 6 years. "She let staff take lead responsibility for projects without breathing down your neck or checking everything you did. She was also good at sharing blame when things go wrong; maybe too much so."

Iraheta continued, "She worked hard to bring the bar into the 20th Century in office technology. During Helen's tenure the Bar went from having few electric typewriters to being almost fully automated. You have to be on staff to understand the volume of work and demands on staff time to do tasks such as notifying people of meetings. Now staff is better able to organize their time and serve the members with less stress." And Iraheta makes a final point: "She fought tenaciously for staff salary parity with other nonprofit organizations."

Helen has high praise and fond memories of the association she is leaving. "It's been fun," she says. "There have been a lot of laughs along the way. Lawyers take themselves so seriously but they have a good sense of humor and they are very witty." She also notes that the association is very open to its members. "There are no honorary positions in the association. Everyone works for what they get. There is a conscious effort to provide opportunities for leadership. Anyone who is interested can reach any level in the bar that they wish to commit time to."

She sees some challenges ahead for the association and the new director. There have been some changes in the staff structure that need to continue, she notes. "Attention needs to be given to upgrading and enhancing skills to make staff more effective."

She sees more challenges for the association. "There needs to be some way to provide a forum for discussion about what is happening to the nature of the practice of law and law firms. There is tremendous change in the economics of law, the impact of competition and the survival of small firms. The association has shown great concern for the legal system, but it is hard to deal with the more personal concerns. We can't ignore the economic or practical demands on associates. We need to nurture their intellectual and social commitment to the profession."

The extension of pro bono services and their institutionalization within the Bar and the community during her tenure has been rewarding. "The bar needs to be alert to the responsibility of government as a whole to provide legal services," she cautions. "What the Bar can provide is only supplemental. Legal services are an integral part of what society must provide to its citizens."

What does the future hold? "Some time to call my own," she states. She wants more time with her husband who was disabled several years ago and her four children. "More volunteer work," she quickly adds, "Although it will be difficult to find something as challenging and rewarding as SKCBA." So an era ends at SKCBA but look out Northwesterners. Helen Pulsifer is loose and looking for something to tackle.

For more about KCBA history, visit