University of Denver

A Leader and a Friend: After Six Years, Karen Mathis “Retires” from IAALS

Founding Executive Director

Karen Mathis is leaving IAALS at the end of this month. Karen has been the Associate Executive Director of IAALS since 2012, and prior to that, she served on IAALS’ Board of Advisors. Her career has been extraordinary (and will continue to be, I’m sure), including an illustrious law practice, President of the American Bar Association, Executive Director of the CEELI Institute in Prague, and CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. When I talked her into helping me run IAALS, she agreed to do it "for a year", and thankfully ended up staying for six.

Under Karen’s guidance, IAALS has come of age. Our operations—including budget, human resources, development, and communications—are now seamless. And, we have a culture of which we are all very proud; we love our work, we collaborate with one another very effectively, and we stay focused on our mission. We have Karen to thank for much of that progress, and thankful we are indeed.

She has bridged the gap between day-to-day operations here at IAALS and the broader programmatic goals—with keen understanding of both. She started our “Fun Club”, began our travel-magnet collection that adorns our fridge, built out our weekly information sharing “Nuts and Bolts” meeting, and had an open door for all—at all times. In fact, we were often emailing one another at 3:00 or 4:00 am when neither of us could sleep and we had an idea, or a question, or a solution.

She is transitioning into a new phase of her life, which will likely involve more international work again, and perhaps a bit more time with her feet up. But, to be sure, retiring is not in her vocabulary or her future. She calls it rewiring, which suggests an upgrade, and off she goes!

I am personally very sad to lose Karen. We have been partners in this venture, and at every turn, I knew I could rely upon Karen’s commitment, follow-through, and wisdom. She is as invested in IAALS’ mission and IAALS’ people as I am—and that is a rare alignment.

When November 1 rolls around, I will find myself looking around for Karen—to ask a question, or noodle about a problem—and she will be launched on new world travels. There will be a period of time when I will nonetheless bother her—old habits die hard. But, Karen, I will try to dispense with the 3:00 am emails.

Bon voyage, and please come visit often.