2020 Tucson Founders Award Honoree
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Creative. Boundless energy. Analytical. Intuitive.
That’s quite a list of adjectives and each has been used to describe Dee-Dee Samet, the Greater Tucson Leadership 2021 Founders Award recipient.
Samet was very excited to learn she’d won the award, but she was characteristically humble about it. “It was quite unexpected and lovely,” she said. “You do what you can for your community. I’ve never understood people who don’t.”
Samet’s résumé – both her work as an attorney and her many volunteer and philanthropic endeavors – is extensive, which might make one wonder how she can fit it all in. “I work fast and I don’t need a lot of sleep,” she said, laughing.
She has played pivotal roles at numerous nonprofits, including Casa de los Niños, Invisible Theatre and Legal Aid of Arizona. In her professional life, she was one of the longest active members of the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors and she’s chaired several committees for the Pima County Bar Association, including the Public Outreach Committee, the Courthouse Tours Committee and the Domestic Relations Pro Bono Committee. She has also been a force on several statewide and national professional organizations.
Jean Gage, managing attorney at CopperPoint Insurance Companies, nominated Samet for the award. “Her résumé speaks for itself,” Gage said. “Dee-Dee is known for her work ethic and her ability to formulate ideas and get things accomplished. She brings people together for a common cause and, through her leadership, she can focus people to work together to get a mission accomplished.”
Susan Maxwell has worked alongside Samet for 25 years, including on the current Casa de los Niños Foundation Board, of which Samet is president. “She challenges those around her to be better thinkers and to focus on the mission to meet the needs of Tucson. She doesn’t just sign up for the task; she commits and works on the task … and is relentless in seeing it through to completion.”
In a letter of support for Samet’s nomination, her longtime friend Hector Estrada wrote that her work touches many aspects of the community, often for those in the greatest need. “As an attorney, her practice primarily centers on seeking assistance for the disabled,” he wrote. “Over the years, numerous state and federal judges have appointed Dee-Dee to represent for free litigants who cannot afford counsel. We have never heard of Dee-Dee declining any appointment or request for service.”
Another passion of Samet’s is the Invisible Theatre. Managing Artistic Director Susan Claassen said Samet has been an active member of the theater’s advisory board for the past 16 years. “She’s the type of board member everyone wants on their board,” Claussen said. “She is an active advocate and is immensely generous of her time and expertise.”
“Dee-Dee does not dabble,” said fellow attorney Pamela Treadwell-Rubin. “If she commits to something, she commits for a long tenure. Not only does she hold herself to a high standard, she encourages all who know her to do better so we can join her at those high levels of performance.”
Samet is also passionate about Tucson Homeless Connect, a nonprofit that gathers local agencies, government, businesses and medical providers to collaborate to provide homeless people with basic needs, referrals and advocacy.
“We have two events a year,” Samet said. “We try to help the homeless find jobs and get mental health treatment. We help them get identification cards; Walgreens provides flu shots and Primavera and other organizations are there to provide clothing and housing assistance; we have judges there that help with any tickets the person may have, and Pima Animal Care is there to provide licenses and shots for pets.”
Samet said the event is critical because it provides an efficient one-stop shop that allows homeless people to start putting their lives back together. “It takes just a couple of things converging and you could wind up homeless,” she said. “The city has a lot of homeless and we need to reach out and help.”
When asked what still drives her after so many years of service, Samet responded in her typical, get-it-done style: “I just believe so firmly that we need to help our community and do what we can.”