THE HELEN GEISNESS AWARD
honors exemplary or distinguished service to the Bar Association.
Charles S. Burdell, Jr.
The Helen Geisness Award is named for the first Executive Director of the King County Bar Association.
This year’s recipient is the King County Bar Foundation’s immediate past president and three-time Breakfast
with Champions Committee Chair, Charles S. Burdell, Jr.
The King County Bar Foundation promotes access to justice by funding numerous programs that provide
vital legal services to low-income and other vulnerable residents of King County. The Foundation also funds
scholarships to minority law students at Seattle University and the University of Washington. Thanks to the
generous contributions from hundreds of lawyers, judges, non-lawyers and businesses, the Foundation’s annual
Breakfast with Champions has become its major source of revenue.
From a comparatively modest inaugural in 2001, the Breakfast has raised more money each year thereby
enabling the Foundation to fund more scholarships and more fully to fund its programs. Much of the Breakfast’s
success is the result of Charlie’s tireless efforts to make each Breakfast bigger and more profitable than
the previous year’s event.
In his first year as a Foundation Trustee, Charlie modestly announced that at the next Breakfast he would fill
the most tables and raise the most money, which is exactly what he did. The following year, Charlie encouraged
his former colleagues on the King County Superior Court bench to attend and he shamelessly cajoled
his numerous friends to serve as table captains and to help build upon the previous Breakfast’s success.
Over the strong objections of several of his fellow Foundation Trustees, Charlie began advocating for paying
the Breakfast’s speaker. He eventually prevailed and in 2006, Paul Rusesabigina, the real-life manager
of Hotel Rwanda, was the Breakfast’s first paid speaker. Attendance at that Breakfast was almost 60%
higher than the previous year and the funds raised increased from $195,000 in 2005 to $308,000 in
2006. In 2007, the Breakfast raised $340,000 in gifts and sponsorships.
Charlie doesn’t limit his efforts to finding table captains and shamelessly extorting contributions. He also
helps with the nuts and bolts preparations. He helps to haul material from the KCBA offices to the hotel and
pitches in to decorate and set up the room. After the event, Charlie has frequently been the one to retrieve
and deliver the centerpiece cereal boxes to a local shelter.
The Breakfasts’ amazing growth and success is not the result of one person’s efforts. As Charlie would be
quick to point out, he has enjoyed much help and support from many, many people. The Breakfast with
Champions, however, has become the centerpiece of Charlie’s efforts on behalf of the Foundation.