Member Spotlight: Maureen Roach Tobin
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in suburban Detroit, Michigan, as the fourth of seven children of Ken and Helen Roach and attended college at the University of Iowa. During my undergraduate years, I worked as a copy editor and editorial writer at The Daily Iowan, but my father refused to pay for an English major so I graduated in 1979 with a degree in economics. Soon after graduating, I moved to Washington, D.C. where I worked for then Congressman Tom Harkin. It was through an annual weekend camping trip that Tom and his staff organized that I met my husband, Terry, an Iowan who had interned for Tom and knew many of my colleagues.
Following Terry’s graduation from Georgetown Law School, we returned to Iowa and I worked as a state director for the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio). After the campaign ended, I took every graduate entrance exam on offer – LSAT, GMAT, and GRE – and learned I’d been accepted to Drake Law School when I returned from the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco to a message on my answering machine from Professor Neil Hamilton (remember when you had to return home to get a message?). While at Drake, I wrote for the Drake Law Review and spent time clerking at Iowa Legal Aid, the Bradshaw law firm, and the Ahlers law firm. I also spent a semester working for U. S. District Court Judge Harold Vietor, a truly remarkable experience.
I joined the litigation practice at Whitfield & Eddy in June 1987, when it was known as Whitfield, Musgrave, Selvy, Kelly & Eddy. Jaki Samuelson was the first to welcome me to the firm, with a note from the Whitfield Women (Jaki, Megan Antenucci, and Wendy Carlson), who came to be a wonderful influence in my career and my life. In addition to the Whitfield Women, I learned from talented and hardworking partners Roger Witke, Bob Fanter, David Phipps, Jerry Spaeth, and Kevin Reynolds, and I appreciated that Harley Whitfield was always very kind to me, and welcoming to Terry. Several of my closest mentors and colleagues at the firm have passed away, including Tim Walker, Wendy Waugaman, Megan Antenucci, Gary Norton, and my long-time secretary Joan McIlravy, and I reflect often on their advice and friendship, which made even the most grueling days better. I retired from the firm in July 2019, after 32 years of practice.
I had great help at home, where Terry and I raised three daughters with support from our long-time nanny, Traci Manatt Rennacker. Nora is now the Executive Director for Self-Help International, a Waverly, Iowa, based nonprofit that focuses on alleviating hunger in Nicaragua and Ghana. Our daughter Helen was born in October 1990, the morning after my partner Tim and his wife Nancy Walker hosted a firm Halloween costume party that I’ll never forget. Helen lives in New York City and serves as Director of Communications for The Atlantic magazine. Our youngest Mary is in Boston, where she works on the venture capital team at Liberty Mutual, analyzing and investing in start-ups. She also co-teaches a class on entrepreneurship at Tufts University.
What are some of your notable achievements?
I truly enjoyed practicing law, and one of the benefits of learning to practice was working with other lawyers and the ISBA. While trying a case to verdict was always interesting, some of my most positive outcomes involved settlements in highly contested cases. Once, after reciting the terms of a multi-party settlement in court, the trial judge asked me to return and explain how we were able to reach that result in such a complicated case.
Early in my career, I was recruited by Johnston teacher Kathy Paul to help coach mock trial, first with attorneys Jim Holcomb and Gordy Allen in the Johnston School District, and later for my daughters’ teams at Indian Hills Junior High and Valley High School. Collectively during that 12-year period, these teams earned 10 top-ten finishes, 4 state championships, and 1 national title. Nora’s team members and their parents have become great friends, and the relationships with my fellow coaches, parents and student team members were enriching and energizing. Teaching critical thinking skills and helping team members learn to cope with disappointment when they lost a close round was one of the highlights of my legal career. It didn’t hurt that as mediation became more prevalent in the practice of law, the only cases I was certain were going to trial were mock trial cases.
On the personal side, and not to overstate the obvious, raising three smart, talented, and loving daughters with Terry has been my most important achievement.
Why did you choose to practice law?
Several influences: the Nancy Drew books I read growing up; my Dad’s night school attendance at the University of Detroit Law School for two years; and my husband Terry’s experience at Georgetown Law School. These all influenced my decision to take the LSAT, and, when accepted, to start at Drake Law School. I was lucky to meet my long-time friend Shawn Burke on our first day of class. During law school, I was able to try a family law case with the guidance of Diane Dornberg at Iowa Legal Aid and to watch a number of civil trials in Judge Vietor’s courtroom. I also enjoyed my clerking experiences and appreciated the challenges presented by civil litigation.
Did you always want to be an attorney?
Some say, “timing is everything” and the fact that I was able to start at Drake Law School shortly after the end of the Glenn presidential campaign really made a difference.
What was your favorite part about being a practicing attorney?
The relationships with my colleagues at Whitfield & Eddy, and the opportunity to mentor new lawyers as they started their careers.
What do you like to do in retirement?
I love to travel, and was lucky to spend my first week of retirement with friends in London, England, and Bergen, Norway. Since the pandemic, we have stayed closer to home, except for a driving trip to Florida, that allowed us to miss the very cold weather this winter. I also volunteered on several political campaigns, and am active in several nonprofit organizations, including Self-Help International, Future Leaders in Action, 100 Women Who Care, and two committees of the Iowa State University Foundation (Audit Committee and Women in Philanthropy). I have taken online classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ISU in Ames, and at FAU in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve been fortunate to spend time with our daughters during the pandemic and have traveled regularly to Ames to see Terry’s parents, Kelly and Irene Tobin, who live at a retirement community. As have many others, I managed several home improvement projects during this year, and have taken many walks along the Clive Greenbelt, Gray’s Lake, and Waterworks Park.
What is the best thing about the Polk County Bar Association?
The Association’s critical support for Polk County VLP and coordination of legal aid for low-income Iowans and efforts to facilitate communication between the bench and bar.
What is the best place to visit in Polk County?
The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates is a gem, with a great display of Iowa history and agriculture, celebrating Norman Borlaug’s vision to feed the world. Gray’s Lake is a wonderful place to walk, and we enjoyed the summer concerts at Waterworks Park, and the outdoor theater at the Des Moines Playhouse. We look forward to returning to events at the Des Moines Performing Arts Center, and the Iowa State Fair, and to spending Saturdays at the Des Moines Farmers Market. Each of these are “the best” in their own category.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A traveler. My Dad often took us with him on business trips and taught us the importance of learning how to travel. Following their grandfather’s example, our daughters all studied abroad and quickly learned how to navigate public transit, hail a cab, or order a Lyft.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor and why?
My Aunt, Mary Fran Gilleran, was a tremendous influence on my life as she navigated the challenges presented by women religious in the Catholic Church. She was president of her order, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan, for six years before her death in 2011. She had the wisdom, temperament, and skills to navigate through the differing views of the role of women in the church within her community and within the wider church community. Our daughter Mary is named after her.
What is your favorite book?
I am a member of two book clubs and a fan of listening to audiobooks, so it’s difficult to choose one. Favorites this year include Anxious People by Fredrik Backman; The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (narrated by Tom Hanks); Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land.
What songs would you include on the soundtrack to your life?
Orleans – “Still The One” (in celebration of my husband Terry, who is still the one that makes me laugh); Rod Stewart – “Forever Young;” Pharrell Williams – “Happy;” Michael Joncas – “On Eagles Wings;” and Lee Ann Womack – “I Hope You Dance.”
Words to live by?
“It takes a village.” And, from Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb:
“For there is always light,
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it”