Juliet Holmes-Smith, executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project and a tireless advocate for Maine’s poor and underserved, died Aug. 14 from complications of a recent stroke. She was 58.

Holmes-Smith worked at the Family Crisis Shelter in Portland as an advocate for children impacted by trauma caused by domestic violence. She graduated from the University of Maine School of Law and began working at Pine Tree Legal Services representing victims of domestic violence.

Juliet Holmes-Smith Courtesy Holmes-Smith family

Holmes-Smith went on to become executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, establishing it as an independent agency.

“She was really a force of nature,” said Beth Richardson, a Portland attorney who works in program development and attorney recruitment at the VLP. “It was part of her cellular makeup to make sure that anybody who needed access to the court system, or who needed access to legal advice got it.

“If because of who you were and what you looked like you weren’t getting access to the court system or advice or justice, she was even more empowered and passionate about making sure that happened. She had this passion and this drive that just never stopped.”

Holmes-Smith started and worked to support various initiatives to give all Mainers the ability to access the legal system, including establishing legal clinics in courts across the state. According to her obituary, Holmes-Smith helped to establish a clinic at Preble Street Resource Center for those experiencing homelessness, a guardianship program to assist families affected by the opioid crisis, a bankruptcy clinic, and a clinic for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Law in Libraries and Free Legal Answers.

In 2004, Holmes-Smith was appointed to the Family Law Advisory Committee. She was later appointed to the Victim Compensation Board for the State of Maine. Prior to her death, she served as chair of the Justice Action Group Pro Bono Sub Committee.

She worked quietly and passionately to make a difference in the state, Richardson said.

“One attorney described her passion as ferocious. She would not let go until everybody got the access to justice that they needed and deserved,” Richardson said. “She has shaped the state particularly through her domestic violence legal work. There are folks to this day who benefit from her work who have never heard of her. It’s a huge loss for Maine.”

Kim Pittman, president of the board of directors for the VLP, said Wednesday that Holmes-Smith was the organization’s heart and soul.

“Nothing was insurmountable,” Pittman said. “She could have 10 cases in one day and it wouldn’t phase her. Whenever she saw injustice, she figured out how to help those people. Anything she could find to fill a need she would fill it. Her compassion knew no bounds.”

In her early years, Holmes-Smith lived on army bases throughout Europe and the Far East. She attended Great Ayton Friend’s School in the Northeast of England. There, she met Campbell Badger, her loving husband of 38 years.

The couple lived in Portland and raised two children, Thomas and Mary Badger.

Campbell Badger remembered his wife Wednesday as a kind and loving woman whose life centered around family. He described her as bright, quick-witted, unpretentious, unique, and English to her core.

“She was just my wife and my kids’ mom,” Badger said. “She did it all without fanfare in her true British fashion. She was never self-promoting. She was obviously a life force, but it wasn’t like her work was No. 1. Family was really important.”

Holmes-Smith suffered a profound stroke about a month ago. Her husband said she was slowly recovering. She was scheduled to come home Aug. 18, but suffered a second and third stroke that she could not recover from.

Her colleagues reflected Wednesday on impact of her loss within the legal community. Pittman said Holmes-Smith’s death left a tremendous void.

“Juliet has been the face of the organization and and we are tasked now with trying to fill her shoes,” Pittman said. “It’s so daunting. This is her legacy. She was so proud of VLP standing on its own two feet. We want to see that continue. It was really important to her, to us as a board, and to me as her friend.”

Family and friends will come together to honor her life from 4-6:30 p.m. Friday at Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State St. in Portland.

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