Most low-income Georgians had no place to turn for justice — or a decent lawyer — until Betsey Neely and other young attorneys stepped up.
Armed with a study of the disparity between legal access in Atlanta and the rest of the state more than 40 years ago, they co-founded the Georgia Legal Services Program.
“Betsey had a real commitment to assuring access to justice for everyone,” said A. James Elliott, associate dean of law at Emory University and another GLSP co-founder. “The statewide legal organization she helped to found has provided legal assistance to almost a million needy Georgians.”
Elizabeth “Betsey” Evans Neely, a pioneer in Georgia’s legal community, died May 14 at her Buckhead home. She was 77.
A memorial service will be at noon on Saturday, May 27, at H.M. Patterson & Son-Spring Hill Chapel, 1020 Spring Street in Atlanta.
A native of Elmira, N.Y, Neely received her B.A. in political science from Syracuse University in 1962 and her law degree from Emory University in 1967.
As a member of the Younger Lawyers Section of the Georgia Bar, Neely co-founded the statewide program to provide legal services to low-income clients in 1971.
Atlantans already had access to a program of this type. But in the rest of the state, the young lawyers found a “distressing disproportion” between the need and the availability of legal services for the poor.
Georgia Legal Services honored Neely in 2013 with one of its “Champions of Justice” award for her efforts.
At that time, Neely said her work with the organization was “one of the proudest associations of my life.”
“I’m so proud of what this program has done,” she said.
Neely spent 27 years, from 1980 to 2007, as an associate chancellor for legal affairs for the University System of Georgia. In that role, she was credited with developing a statewide conflict resolution program that became a model for universities worldwide.
Son Jeff said Neely was “just a hard worker and did the best she could for a single mother in Buckhead, juggling multiple jobs.”
After retiring from the state, Neely’s focus shifted to mental health, counseling and dispute resolution.
She received her Master’s degree in professional counseling from Argosy University in 2009 and life coach certification from the Life Coach Institute of Orange County, Ca. in 2011.
In her business, In Your Wildest Dreams, Neely counseled clients through major life transitions.
She also was an adjunct professor of forensic psychology at Argosy.
Her family said that, when Neely wasn’t out trying to save the world, she enjoyed travel, the symphony, independent films and being a grandmother.
Her survivors include children Jeff Neely, John Neely and Jennifer Neely, all of Atlanta; three grandchildren; and sister Sally Vickery of Huntsville, Ala.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Neely’s name to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.