Celebrating the Life of Amanda B. Norejko

Amanda laughing

Amanda was bright beyond measure, patient, direct, thoughtful and self-effacing. She embodied the best traits of a lawyer and a human being.

The New York Women’s Bar Association is extremely sad to announce the passing of Amanda B. Norejko, Past President, Board Member and Committee Co-Chair. Amanda was a graduate of Bowdoin College and NYU Law School, where she was the Managing Editor of the International Journal of Comparative Law. She worked at Sanctuary for Families from 2004 to 2018. When she left, she was the Director of the Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project. At her death, Amanda was a Family Court Support Magistrate and had worked in that role for 5 years. She chaired the New York County Family Court Gender Fairness Committee and was a member of the Equal Justice in the Courts Committee.

Amanda with smiling with friends

Amanda was a friend and mentor. She inspired all of us to do more. We are better for having known her.

In her work with the NYWBA, Amanda undertook many roles, including President for a two-year term. She shepherded the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic. Amanda was a long-time board member and Committee Co-Chair.

She was also a Board Member for 7 years at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a Senior Policy Advisor for 14 years at the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. She worked tirelessly to better the lives of women and children.

Amanda smiling outdoors

Amanda was an extraordinarily powerful, inspirational leader at Sanctuary and the Women’s Bar Association and her legacy of groundbreaking achievements and place in our hearts lives on.

At the 2023 Women’s Bar Association of New York Convention, Amanda was presented with the Marilyn R. Menge Award, bestowed upon an outstanding member who has made valuable and significant contributions to her chapter or the statewide organization.

I am so happy to be here with you tonight. Then again, these days I’m happy to be anywhere.

I want to thank WBASNY for selecting me to receive this award and the New York Chapter for nominating me, despite my resistance to it. Before I begin, I want to welcome two first-time Convention attendees from the New York chapter. One is my wonderful husband, Ryan Candee, who has been making me laugh every day for over 23 years. He is my sounding board, my shoulder to cry on, the man who has taken me on so many adventures and he keeps me sane no matter how chaotic our lives become. He recently said that he fights for me so I can keep fighting for the world. Thank you, Ryan, for taking care of me every day and supporting me in all the things that are important to me. And thank you to Laura Russell for over 20 years of mentoring and friendship. She taught me about 90% of what I know about family law and welcomed me into her close-knit circle of friends. She is also my ride here and back home, so be extra to her.

When I was told I was being nominated for this award, I struggled to find a meaning. Everything I do has to have meaning. For those with long careers ahead of them, awards signify the potential for future achievements. For those with a long, illustrious career behind them, awards may be an opportunity for others to learn from them and aspire to do similarly great things. So where do I fit in? I could rattle off a comprehensive list of the things I have done with WBASNY and with my local chapter. But I won’t stand for that kind of thing. Literally, I cannot stand up here that long. My feet are already killing me. So, I’ll keep this brief and talk about the essence of this award and why it is important to me.

When I was selected for this award, I decided to learn more about the person for whom it is named. I knew the history of other people for whom WBASNY has named awards: Joan Ellenbogen, Judith Kaye, and RBG, but who was Marilyn R. Menge? The first thing I found was an obituary in the NY Times, from 1988, and the first thing it said was that she passed away at only 31 years old. From ovarian cancer. As some of you know, I’ve been receiving treatment for ovarian cancer since February 2019. So I thought “ah, that’s why!” But, I received texts and calls from my WBASNY sisters, including former recipients of this award, Susan Pollet and Faye Parris, assuring me that it was a—very striking—coincidence.

Since my name would now be associated with Marilyn Menge, I did some research on her. I love research. Now, I want to take this time to talk about what Marilyn Menge did for WBASNY. Picture it – WBASNY in the 1980s – (yes, I am a Golden Girls fan) an upstart new statewide bar association working hard to establish its place, its prestige, and to fulfill its purpose. Marilyn Menge, a young lawyer, was a key liaison between WBASNY’s Legislative Committee and the NYS Legislature, helping to establish WBASNY as a force in promoting legislation important to our mission, a legacy that continues today. She was a founding member of the Capital District Chapter. During her term as WBASNY Secretary, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Despite receiving frequent chemotherapy treatments, she never missed completing a set of minutes. She became a Vice-President of WBASNY. She was obviously respected and adored enough that an award was established in her name in the year that she died and its first recipient was the inimitable Marjorie Karowe. In addition to Susan and Faye, this award has also been given to Beth Bryson, Honorable Deborah Kaplan, and so many others I admire. What an honor to be in the same company as all these amazing women!

Working in service to others and to the causes I hold dear are like breathing to me. Living without contributing is unthinkable. WBASNY and the NYWBA have given me so much air to help me breathe all these years. Ryan often says that I am my most alive, most animated, and most like my true self when I am talking about my work, whether it’s my day job or my women’s bar work, even when I’m complaining about something I’d like to improve or how little time I have to get it all done. Very observant guy, my husband.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said she’d like to be remembered as “someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something outside of myself.” This quote captures the spirit in which WBASNY gives this award.

It has been an honor and a privilege to do something outside of myself and try to make things a little better for women together with all of you.

I am accepting this award for Marilyn and for everyone here who makes a difference with all you do for WBASNY. Thank you.

At the NYWBA 2023 Annual Dinner, Amanda was the inaugural recipient of the Amanda B. Norejko Award.

When Magnolia told me that the NYWBA was establishing an award in my name, I was almost speechless. And speechless is not a state in which I am often found. Awards are named for people who do BIG THINGS – the first woman to achieve something, the founder of an organization or a movement – people like Hon Betty Weinberg Ellerin or Joan Ellenbogan. Why name an award after me? All I have done is small things that my passion and my conscience compelled me to do.

Combating violence against women and children has been my mission since I entered law school. I have dedicated my career to it.

Recently, I have been focusing on things I likely will not have a chance to do. But my wise husband, Ryan Candee, reminded me that what I have done affected people: attorneys, litigants and their children.

One victim of trafficking told me that they never had a Christmas tree. I bought and delivered a little studio-apartment sized tree with lights and mini ornaments and the client’s favorite candy bars. The client lit up brighter than the tree and still thanks me years later. Little gestures can mean a lot.

Then I thought about when I was a kid. Every summer, my parents took us camping at Gilbert Lake. My dad took us to the edge of the water and found small flat rocks that we tried to skip across the lake. Each bounce across the surface caused ripples to form and spread. One little action, a flick of the wrist, caused many ripples that got bigger as they spread. Little things matter because they cause ripples that are far bigger than ourselves.

I may not have risen to the pinnacle of my profession or had any famous firsts, but I am thrilled that the NYWBA is honoring contributions toward addressing the needs of victims of violence (big or small).

Thank you to the NYWBA Board of Directors for giving presenters a chance to stumble over the pronunciation of my name for years to come. The Honorable Judy Kluger and Dorchen Leidholdt (who have both done fantastic things both big and small) for supporting me in my work at Sanctuary for Families. Thank you to my former colleagues for everything you taught me and for carrying on this important work. Thank you to my parents for teaching me the value of hard work and service to others. Thank you to my little sister Alicia Steele, for cheering me up with jokes nobody else understands and somehow admiring me when she has saved lives as a registered nurse. Finally, I thank my husband, Ryan Candee, the love of my life. Since the first time I spoke to the 1L with the sparkling blue eyes at a DV Awareness Walk in 1999, he has been my biggest champion, supporting my loftiest aspirations while making sure I don’t burn out trying to achieve them. I am better for having him by my side.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don’t just do it for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.” This award tells me that I left tracks: in the lives of clients, in the careers of attorneys I trained and mentored, and hopefully some of you will appreciate the small things you do that make a big difference. All I have ever wanted was to leave the world a little better so that my life mattered. With this award, the NYWBA has assured me that it did.

Thank you.

Amanda with her husband, Ryan

Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and family during this most difficult time.

Amanda smiling at dinner

We wish her peace and rest.

EXPRESSIONS OF GRATITUDE