Yep—it was that long ago.  I had graduated from college in 1969, and after some difficult times wondering whether I would be drafted before I was called up for VISTA, I left for Montevideo, Minnesota, where I was a VISTA “planner.”  It was an amazing year, both there and in Owatonna, Minnesota.  I lived on $180 a month, organized a buying cooperative of poor farmers, and learned more than I ever dreamed.  I learned a great deal about myself, living alone in a cabin outside Dodge Center.  I learned about poor people—their resilience, their creativity, the struggles they have.  I learned that I was one dental bill away from being poor.  And I learned that I wanted to be a “poverty lawyer.”
There was no legal services at the time.  But there were VISTA lawyers, living on the same stipend I was.  I don’t recall why I was in court at the time, but there I was, and I saw a lawyer stand up next to a poor person and advocate for him.  Until that moment, I had no idea what I was going to do with my English degree.  Like many 23 year-olds, I knew only that I wanted to do something significant and real, and that I wanted to work with poor people.  That VISTA lawyer not only stood next to the poor person, he stood up for them.  And at that moment, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. 
I headed off to law school, and in my third year, I looked around for a local legal services corporation.  I was a visiting student at the University of Kentucky.  There were no local legal services organizations, but there was the Department of Public Advocacy in nearby Frankfort.  I didn’t know much about being a public defender, but knew they represented poor people. I signed on as a law clerk.  I was Ed Monahan’s (present Kentucky Public Advocate) law clerk for my third year, and then I was hired by Public Advocate Jack Farley to work in appeals.  I was sworn in as a lawyer in 1977, and have been hooked ever since.  I served as an appellate lawyer, a trial lawyer, the director of a new trial office, a regional manager, and then Public Advocate for twelve years. 
It's been a helluva ride that began 48 years ago in a courtroom in rural Minnesota.  It’s good to remember during this National Public Defense Week.