In Memoriam:  Margaret T. (Clapp) Winchester

September 14, 1953 – June 16, 2015

With sadness, we are writing to let you know that Margaret Winchester, the Attorney in Charge for CAFL’s trial office in Worcester, passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

For more than 25 years, Margaret was a tireless and courageous champion for children and parents whose rights to family integrity were jeopardized – and often trampled – by state intervention.  She was an early member of the trial and appellate panels for the Family Law Advocacy Project (the precursor of CAFL); she served as a mentor and Regional Coordinator in Worcester County; she was one of CAFL’s Co-Directors from 1999 to 2006; and for the last nine years she has been CAFL’s Attorney in Charge in Worcester.  Her accomplishments were many and varied in each of those roles.  Looking at her AIC work alone, she successfully launched the office (while helping her counterparts in Boston, Brockton, Lowell, and Pittsfield start their own offices); she positioned the office at the forefront of child welfare advocacy in Worcester County; she helped the office grow from a staff of five in mid-2011 to more than 20 by mid-2013; and she kept her staff steady and strong in the midst of a severe shortage of CAFL lawyers and an unprecedented avalanche of new cases being prosecuted by the Department of Children and Families in late 2013 and well into 2014. 

In the face of various challenges, Margaret was particularly adept at working with newer, less experienced staff members.  A one-time high school teacher, Margaret loved helping her staff learn, grow, and develop as professionals.  Countless others also benefited from her eagerness and willingness to share her knowledge and experience.  Year after year, Margaret served as a trainer par excellence for private attorneys and staff.  At the same time, she modeled zealous advocacy in her own work.  Sharp and insightful, Margaret didn’t simply rely on her intelligence.  As her colleagues have noted (and as anyone who ever observed her would agree), no one ever outworked Margaret. 

Margaret’s work extended far beyond “typical” public defender work (if there is such a thing).  She participated in a number of Worcester area and statewide organizations aimed at securing better outcomes for our clients.  She was willing to speak up and speak out when she saw a problem that needed to be addressed – with the Juvenile Court, with DCF, and within CPCS itself.  Through her appellate work, she helped establish a right to counsel for parents who were in jeopardy of losing their children to state custody in status offense cases.  In honor of that achievement and her other work, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named Margaret one of their “Lawyers of the Year” in 2008.  Margaret also received CPCS’s Mary Fitzpatrick Children and Family Law Award in 2013 in recognition of her zealous advocacy and extraordinary commitment to children and families.

As much as, if not more than, any other CAFL lawyer, Margaret was committed to her work.  She was always client-centered,she was deeply devoted to her staff, and she was very supportive of private attorneys.  It is no exaggeration to say that Margaret helped hundreds of lawyers and thousands of children and parents (directly and through her support and supervision of others) over the arc of an incredibly productive career.  But Margaret was more than just a great litigator and a dynamic leader.  She was kind and compassionate to clients and colleagues alike.  She was generous with her time, even while her health was failing.  She had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was humble.  Particularly over the last few years, she reminded us that every day is a gift.

Families in Worcester County and all of us at CPCS have lost a great friend and a powerful voice for justice.  We ask each of you to pause for a moment at some point in your busy day in Margaret’s honor.  

More information can be found at:

Anthony J. Benedetti,                                                                                                                                       Chief Counsel
Michael Dsida,
Deputy Chief Counsel
Children and Family Law Division

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