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Remembering Ellen Eager, A CCE Pioneer

Ellen Watson Eager, who passed away after a long illness on March 16, was a “CCE Pioneer,” one of the first board members when the organization was formed in 1982. Founder Charles Horsky had drafted Ellen to serve on the Horsky Committee studying the newly-reorganized DC court system for the DC Bar. Once the report was published in the early 1980’s, Ellen was thoroughly committed to continuing to improve the administration of justice, lending her considerable insight and perspective as a “civic director.”  In her more than 25 years of active board service, Ellen was a member of CCE’s Executive Committee, serving two multi-year terms, a perennial and active member of the Public Service Committee, a stalwart on the Jury Project that published its groundbreaking report in 1998, and a participant in several of CCE’s Court Observation Projects. For all of her many accomplishments, she received the Horsky Award in 2002.

Ellen lived a life filled with strong family ties and long-lasting friendships, as evidenced by the many who gathered on April 5 for a loving tribute. One of three speakers, Sam Harahan described Ellen as an ideal civic member of the Council, and cited two examples where her gentle substantive hand helped lead to a better community for DC citizens and to better courts as well, especially in the area of jury service. In addition to all of her accomplishments mentioned above, Ellen participated in the committee that after many years of tireless work resulted in the One Day/One Trial Act which today is the gold standard for 2most efficiently-run trial courts.

Ellen was also a writer and editor by training and by inclination, and over the years, CCE took full advantage of her skills on many law-related public education pamphlets, none more directly than the Council’s citizens’ guide to the probate system. Ellen even provided the descriptive, still-used name “When Someone Dies” for the first edition in the late 1980’s, today one of CCE’s most requested publications.

Born in Baltimore, she came from an accomplished family: her father was a military correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for World War II reporting from the fronts, and recipient of one of the first Presidential Medals of Freedom in 1963.  Her mother was among the early women reporters on the Sun who in 1919-1920 covered the national campaign for women’s suffrage. Ellen graduated from Wellesley College and over the years worked as an assistant editor and office manager, and held numerous volunteer positions with museum boards, historical societies, book groups, and environmental organizations. She established and managed a foundation dedicated to her late son, Mark Watson Eager, that donated funds to conservation efforts and outdoor recreation programs.

In 1954, Ellen married Bainbridge Eager of Watertown, NY, and the couple lived in the Washington neighborhood of Cleveland Park for nearly a half century. The couple also had a daughter Susan Bainbridge who lives in Arlington.  Over the years, Ellen and Bain attended many CCE Stewart Dinners, Kennedy Center forums, and other activities too numerous to list. Even in her later years, Ellen actively participated in the planning of the Horsky Centenary at the US Supreme Court in late 2010 and she and Bain were on hand to celebrate the life of her dear friend, Charlie Horsky. 

Several CCE board members remember Ellen with great fondness. Paul Pearlstein referred to Ellen as “a stalwart for and with CCE in its early years. As a very smart, very pleasant non-lawyer, she was a pleasure to work with on the board and on committees.”  Cary Feldman called her a “fine, fine woman.” And Jack Scheuermann remembered Ellen as a “giant, one of the rare individuals that truly made a difference without seeking, indeed actively avoiding, the limelight. Our city has suffered a real loss.”  Indeed, she will be missed by many.

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