University of Denver

IAALS Advances Justice with Gay Cook

Executive Director

IAALS simply would not be what it is without the support of our staff, partners and friends. They are essential to our efforts and hail from a wide range of backgrounds, viewpoints, and sectors. Every month, IAALS shines the spotlight on one such person and takes you behind the scenes for a lighthearted glimpse into those upon whose guidance and support we rely. Together we are advancing justice.

Gay Cook, Vice President & Corporate Officer (Ret.), The Colorado Trust;
Board of Advisors, IAALS

Gay, Karen Mathis, and I had lunch together one day at Elway’s. The question on the table was whether Karen and I could convince Gay to join our Board.

Gay started the conversation by saying that she was not a lawyer and that her knowledge of the legal system was from a keen observer’s standpoint, not from that of an actor in the system. She wanted to know what we would want from her, what we would expect from her. Karen and I talked about the need for objectivity and perspective—coupled with intellect and a propensity for candor. Gay agreed that she had all of that. But, she pushed further: What were we intending to accomplish? What was driving our need for that kind of uncompromising inquiry and commentary? We talked about various projects, about our overall mission, about the times in which we live. And, we talked about the role of the courts in society. She started to come around. And, because of the importance and audaciousness of the goals we set for ourselves, and because of Gay’s alignment with those goals, she agreed to join us.

From that moment on, we could count on her for insight and probity—and for a wicked sense of humor that surfaced from time to time. We could count on her to keep us focused, on the mission, and honest about our successes and failures. Gay can zoom in and zoom out—and with elegance and style, say just what needs to be said.

Thank you for being our conscience, Gay. IAALS is better for your lens and your contributions.

Earlier this month we caught up with Gay to bring you the most recent edition of Partner Profile.  Gay has served on the Board of IAALS since 2015 and will step down July 1, 2019.

What is it about IAALS mission that is meaningful to you? The independent judiciary, which is a bulwark of our democracy, is under attack in a way I don’t think we have seen in a long time. As a former journalist and non-profit executive, I am impressed with IAALS’ unsparing commitment to advancing the American legal system, to achieving justice for all by ensuring the system works for everyone, that it is accountable and trusted. I also admire IAALS’ bedrock working principles of independent, non-partisan, and qualitative/quantitative research that incorporate broad stakeholder input.

What projects have been most important to you? What is interesting about IAALS is it is a comparatively small organization with a very big mission. It is highly strategic in picking the projects on which it focuses to fulfill its mission. If I had to pick a couple, I would choose Foundations for Practice and Unbundling Legal Services.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Sunrise at the dawn of a new day capped off with a blazing sunset and the promise of yet another day.

What is the trait you most admire in others? Courage combined with truth-seeking and truth-telling, particularly in the political climate in which we find ourselves today.

What is your greatest extravagance? Books, travel, and wine.

What living person or historical figure do you most admire? Historically, the Founding Fathers. Today, journalists and photojournalists everywhere. They are often at great risk and sometimes lose their lives doing their jobs. They work to uncover the truth while serving as an important watchdog and telling the stories of humankind.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have and why? My husband, whom I love and is an Eagle Scout (I think he can light a fire without matches). I also would have a Tilley Hat, sunglasses, a Swiss army knife; and a fine seafaring vessel for when I no longer wished to be stranded.

What do you consider your greatest professional achievement? That is an interesting question because my career has spanned the newspaper industry, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector. While I can point to accomplishments in each of those areas, I would single out my work to promote women’s leadership. A highlight was my presidency of the International Women’s Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based organization of some 7,000 women leaders from 33 nations on six continents. Advancing women’s rights and equality, combined with paving the way for the next generation of women leaders, is of utmost importance to me; regrettably, we still have much work to do.