Martha Browning Dicus
Our beloved Martha Browning Dicus died on Sunday, August 26, 2012, at Roper Hospital in Charleston, S.C., as courageous in death as she was in living with cancer.
Martha was born on July 18, 1949, to Dorothy May Liles Dicus "Dot" and Col. William Anderson Dicus Jr. She was the oldest of three children in a family that moved from town to town because of her father's postings as a Marine Corps officer. Martha so loved her family and childhood experiences. She graduated from high school in Fairfax, Va., in 1967, and earned her B.A. in religion from Meredith College in Raleigh in 1971. Following graduation, she began her lifelong commitment to helping those in need by becoming a social worker in Raleigh. While she enjoyed that work, she decided to become a lawyer, believing it would give her greater opportunities for service. She earned her law degree at the University of South Carolina School of Law in December of 1978 and then began work at the Richland County Public Defender's Office, in Columbia, S.C. An opportunity to work with Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation in led her to Wyoming in 1981. She returned to South Carolina, not only in love with the American West, but also with a deeper understanding of her identity and knowledge that South Carolina was her home. Martha began work for legal services in South Carolina in 1982, working for Neighborhood Legal Services, opening the Walterboro office in rural Colleton County. In 1984, Martha transferred to the Lexington office of Palmetto Legal Services, where she worked for three years. In 1987, she became the Managing Attorney of the Neighborhood Legal Assistance Project, NLAP, on St. Helena Island, S.C., where she worked out of a tiny office at Penn Center where Martin Luther King Jr. once stayed. She called it "the greatest legal aid job in the world." She left NLAP in 1995, to work as Attorney Counselor for Public Interest at Yale Law School. Martha then returned home to serve as a Senior Staff Attorney in the Charleston County Public Defender's Office, where she worked vigorously until her death.
In Charleston, Martha was a leader in the emerging field of restorative justice and a lawyer to whom other lawyers turned for advice. She was instrumental in the creation and success of the first Adult Drug Court and a new Mental Health Court. Among the many awards Martha received are the South Carolina Bar's Legal Services Lawyer of the Year Award; the Meredith College Outstanding Alumna Award; the American Bar Association's Dorsey Award, presented annually to the country's most outstanding public defender or legal aid lawyer; and the South Carolina Women Lawyer Association's Jean Galloway Bissell Award, presented annually to a person who has given distinguished and noteworthy service to the public and the legal profession and who has paved the way to success for women lawyers.
Martha was an outstanding lawyer and advocate for her clients. She truly loved her work and felt so proud to be able to help the least advantaged people of our society. She was unique in truly wonderful ways. Her wit and intellect drew people to her and she took clients, family and friends into her life, managing somehow to offer gifts, notes ("Marthagrams," often written in pink highlighter), poems, and words of encouragement to all, while making everyone feel singularly important to her. One did not just "meet" Martha but rather was embraced by Martha and welcomed into her special world. Those touched by her all came away feeling better for knowing her. In the words of her longtime investigator Cecelia Wilson, "Martha reflects the light."
Martha was a great mentor and gave the many young lawyers lucky enough to cross her path outstanding support, advice, and help in obtaining experiences needed to become excellent lawyers. She never lost track of her young lawyers; long after they were established in their jobs and practices, they still sought her out for her good counsel and advice. She inspired many to seek jobs in the public interest sector.
Like most southerners, Martha had a strong sense of place, both physical and social. Her family was very important to her, and she worked hard, as with everything, to keep them connected to her and each other. She was also passionate about her many friends, reading, the law, and "all of South Carolina," from the mountains to the ocean. She loved poetry and quoted many poems by heart. One of her favorite poets, E.E. Cummings, could have written this verse about the positive way she lived her life: "I thank God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."
Martha is survived by the love of her life, Rhett Conlon Dunaway of Charleston, S.C.; her sister, Mary Woodley Dicus of Raleigh; her brother, William Anderson Dicus III, and sister-in-law, Pepi, of Boone; and many aunts, uncles and cousins. She was predeceased by her parents, of Raleigh, and her nephew, William Anderson Dicus IV of Boone.
Martha's family is very thankful for the wonderful care given by Dr. Scott Jennings, Dr. George Keogh, and all of the outstanding doctors and nurses at Roper Hospital.
Friends and family are invited to gather to remember Martha on 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 29, 2012, at the Confederate Home, 62 Broad Street, Charleston, S.C. A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Thursday, August 30, 2012, at Trinity United Methodist Church, 273 Meeting Street, Charleston, S.C., with a reception to follow in the Fellowship Hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family request that donations be made to the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, 635 Rutledge Avenue, Suite 201, Charleston, S.C. 29403, in support of the Martha B. Dicus Fund for Public Service, which the family hopes to utilize to create a lasting legacy in Martha's name.
Arrangements by James A. MCalister Funerals & Cremation.