By Professor Roberta K. Flowers
On a cool autumn Saturday in 2008, I sat beside Stuart Zimring, CAP, Fellow, and NAELA Past President, (Stu to everyone who knows him) at Adat Ari El Synagogue in Valley Village, California. The sound of his voice and the intensity of his worship reminded me why he has been the voice for those with no voice for 47 years. Stu has a voice that captures the essence and depth of his Jewish faith and values — values that emphasize family, community, charity, education, ethics, and compassion for the vulnerable. He believes in the depth of his soul that his mission in this world is to help others. That is why when you watch him work in his law office, in his synagogue, in meetings and at conferences, or carrying out any of his responsibilities, his care for others is evident.
Stu wrote his first supplemental needs trust in the late 1980s and has been working with people with disabilities and their families ever since then. He is an expert on elder and special needs law and speaks throughout the country on issues revolving around the protections for some of the most vulnerable. Stu has clients who have stayed with him for decades, including second and third generations. One only needs to watch him interact with clients to know why they come back and bring their families.
When Stu first came to NAELA, he proclaimed, “I have found my people.” He loves planning together, working together, and playing together with like-minded people. People who care about their clients, who, in a different time, hugged their clients and were hugged routinely by their clients.
NAELA’s Aspirational Standards
Stu gave “voice” to the aspirations that elder law and special needs planning attorneys hold, when he made the creation of the NAELA Aspirational Standards for the Practice of Elder and Special Needs Law the primary goal of his NAELA presidency in 2004. The Aspirational Standards (now in the second edition) were an idea that Stu brought to reality. Michael Amoruso, Esq., CAP, Fellow, and a NAELA Past President, sums Stu’s dedication to NAELA up this way:
Stu embodies the definition of integrity. Every aspect of NAELA and the NAELA Foundation to which Stu gives his unwavering support echo his honesty, strong moral principles, and passion. Stu’s constant support of our membership and tomorrow’s leaders demonstrate his unselfish love of NAELA, an organization he has helped mold to mirror the qualities that define him.
It is almost impossible to talk about Stu without talking about Carol, his wife of 39 years. Stu says it as one word, “StuandCarol.” When I asked about her, he looked at his watch and asked, “How long do we have?” And it did take a while.
They met when Carol was the paralegal for the opposing counsel in a family law case. Stu proposed using interrogatories with attached exhibits, which included an engagement ring.
When they married, there were already four children between them, ranging in age from 5 to 10 years old. They are proud that the word “step” was never part of the vocabulary. They raised the children as their own through all the struggles of raising a blended family. They persevered and prospered.
As to Carol’s involvement with Stu’s career, he claims, “Carol knows what I am capable of and pushes me to accomplish it. Everything I have ever accomplished would not have happened without her.” Knowing Stu, one might doubt that, but one could never doubt the love they share for each other and for everyone around them. NAELA President Jennifer VanderVeen, CELA, CAP, Fellow, sums Stu and Carol up this way:
There’s a reason he’s my Yoda. And honestly, it’s been both of them. Any time that I’ve had a situation that I just didn’t know quite how to handle or wasn’t sure if I was taking the right course of action, Stu has always been there to answer an email or take a phone call and dish out some wisdom. And Carol always reminds me that, “I’ve got this” and just to be myself.
A conversation with Stu is always going to move into a remarkable story about one of his and Carol’s latest adventures. Carol works part-time as a travel agent, and so their travels take them far and wide — from falconry in Dubai, to diving in Cancun, to hanging out with the koalas in Australia. They have traveled the world and do not plan to stop any time soon. To hear them tell about their travels is to relive escapades not only to exotic places but also with exotic people. They always have a story of someone they have met along the way. Stu and Carol are people magnets and people love to be with them.
When they are home, however, they volunteer and support many charities and organizations. Stu has been named Volunteer of the Year by Bet Tzedek, a non-profit legal aid organization serving low-income individuals, holocaust survivors, and people in need. He serves on the board of One Generation, a nonprofit that brings seniors and children into a safe daycare environment. And he is a lay Cantor at his synagogue.
Music Is a Must
Stu plays classical guitar. He recognizes that he would never be able to rely on music to feed his family. But because Stu has never defined himself by what he does to put food on the table, “his music completes him.” Music defines his emotional and spiritual self, whether it is singing in synagogue or playing the guitar at home.
Stu summed up himself best in the ending of his inauguration speech as NAELA President in 2004. He said it this way, “If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” His voice for others has not changed since that speech, and it never will.
About the Author
Professor Roberta K. Flowers is a member of the NAELA Board of Directors and will be NAELA Vice President when the new program year starts in June.