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A Tribute To Rob Williams

by Dena Marshall
March 2010 Dena Marshall

This is a tribute to Rob Williams and my contemporaries in the field, the next generation of pillars of dispute resolution professionalism. Rob Williams was a familiar young face in Portland among the public policy facilitation crowd. He lived in Portland for several years, worked for RESOLVE, completed his PhD at Portland State University and then moved to Colorado for a job with the Meridian Institute. He was an elite triathlete, a friend, and a colleague. He was kind, adventuresome, and fun loving. He was a man of unwavering integrity. On one occasion I can remember, Rob refused to be pawned into the role of a “potted plant” by a powerful client in a public meeting. He took his job seriously, and he was proud of the quality of the work produced.

Rob died in late October 2009. He was my age. He had struggled with bipolar disease and he lost the battle to it on a weekday, between meetings. The field has lost an important colleague. What saddens me most is not that Rob is gone; but that news of his passing was somehow lost among the cracks that we have created in this tiny field. To my own embarrassment, I learned of Rob’s death not through my colleagues, but through a national announcement of a new scholarship in his honor published by the Association for Conflict Resolution. It’s true, if I had kept in closer contact with our mutual friends over the past few months, the ACR announcement might not have come as such a surprise. On the other hand, if we had a stronger network of sharing information among ourselves locally, we might collectively benefit.

As professionals, we need to do a better job of acknowledging the commonalities of our experiences – whether we work in public policy, court-connected, community, private, or university arenas, we must understand that we are so few in numbers, and we all share resources. We share our talents and personnel, across disciplines and between offices. We compete against each other for contracts. We team up with each other on projects. We need to do a better job of communicating with each other, sharing the losses, and celebrating the victories.

We have lost a promising young practitioner, who someday might have been famous, and who certainly helped to shape my own career. I sincerely hope the next time we lose a member of our professional community, or celebrate a victory for ourselves, that we will collectively share the news in the most expedient, efficient, and supportive manner possible. Thank you for taking a moment to think about Rob and to consider our professional community.

The ACR scholarship is an award for emerging environment and public policy leaders who are currently active with, or who wish to become more active with the Association for Conflict Resolution Environment and Public Policy section. The award information can be found on the ACR EPP website:


Dena Marshall, JD, earned her law degree from American University, with a focus on peace negotiation and international law. While a law student, she published a law review article, competed in Moot Court, served as President of the International Law Society, and taught constitutional literacy to public high school students. Dena graduated cum laude from Amherst College where she studied the roots of human conflict as expressed through religious practice.

Dena is fluent in Spanish, and has directed her dispute resolution services to serve the unique needs of Spanish speaking parties.  She is a member of the Oregon Mediation Association, Association for Conflict Resolution, Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and Oregon Women Lawyers.  Dena brings a fun-loving efficiency to the mediation session.

Growing up in rural New York State, Dena was active in 4-H, raised sheep and chickens, and grew vegetables for sale to a local supermarket. In her free time, Dena enjoys hiking, gardening, ultimate frisbee and spending time with her family.

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