18, 1967 was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States – and in the personal
history of Cheryl Rosen Weston.
University of Wisconsin student, she was
feeling “stuck” after having been lured to the Madison
by a boyfriend and then unceremoniously dumped. But she happened to catch an interesting news story on TV. Students had gathered on campus to protest the presence of employment representatives from Dow Chemical
Corporation, manufacturer of Napalm for the Vietnam War. “I was really curious,” she says.
dropped by the scene in time to witness the peaceful demonstration devolve into a riot, resulting in arrests and injuries.
Law students were taking statements from witnesses, and civil rights attorney Percy Julian was in the crowd. “I became
Percy’s secretary on the spot,” she says.
the same time, American troops in Vietnam
were suffering casualties that would contribute to the growing anti-war sentiment around the nation. Suddenly, Weston says,
“I was at Ground Zero of the civil rights movement … I became radicalized.”
Weston, the event was simply one of “life’s many twists and turns.” Was it luck? Serendipity? To hear Weston
talk, so much of life is simply an accident of birth – being in the right place at the right time. Today, Weston is
a formidable presence in Madison’s law and business
community (see sidebar). But she’s not self-congratulatory. “Do I think I ‘earned’ sitting in this
chair? Uh-uh,” Weston says, shaking her head.
professional past reads like a Who’s Who of the Progressive movement. Her early jobs included stints in the offices
of Judge James E. Doyle (“the paradigm of integrity”); the law firm that represented the Chicago Seven, including
Abbie Hoffman; and Governor Patrick Lucey.
was a wonderful time to be young,” Weston says of the late 60s and early 70s. “I was surrounded by people who
felt they had to take responsibility for what was going on in the world. We had a sense our generation was going to be very
important. We felt powerful.” Weston was engrossed in the civil rights
and anti-war movements, and later, the feminist movement. “That came last,” she says. “Finally, (women)
looked at each other and said, ‘Why are we making the coffee?’”
child, Weston lost her father and Social Security and other government programs had kept her family afloat. Her mother promoted
education, “but as an insurance policy, so I could support myself if my husband died.” Weston attended college
with financial aid and a variety of grants, “opportunities because of the taxpayers of this state.” She’s
never forgotten that she depended on the kindness of strangers. “We were poor,” she says. “The Social Darwinism
that was popular 100 years ago – let them starve! – is coming into vogue again. Well, I would have starved.”
humble origins continue to impact her life and form her worldview. “I still believe in the same things today,”
she says. “I’m an old Lefty. That means justice, economic opportunity, and civil rights.” She became a lawyer
because of that vision: “At the time, law was seen as the agent of change, the social activist thing to do.” She
started her law firm with $228, “and $28 of that was stationary.”
one, two, and three jobs since her teenage years (and continuing to work two full-time jobs today), she refuses to label herself
“self-sufficient” and she doesn’t begrudge those who receive government help. “If we do well, we tend
to believe it’s because we ‘deserve’ it,” she says. “But don’t think you’re entitled
to the good things if you don’t believe you are entitled to the bad things.”
with some good luck, Weston has had bad luck. At 15, she suffered a bizarre illness as the result of a cat scratch, and “had
peptic ulcers, was bald, wore an unconvincing wig, weighed 193 pounds with a face as round as the moon, and had a patch on
one eye” due to massive doses of steroids. Later she spent three months in the hospital due to a car accident (and a
friend totaled her car).
bad luck happened six years ago, when she underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for colorectal cancer (or, as she
calls it, “cancer of the butt”). But there was good luck there too.
“The only reason I am alive today is because I had health insurance and access to good medical care,” she says.
“They found the cancer during a routine checkup. I had no symptoms.” And don’t praise her for beating cancer.
“I’m not comfortable with all that ‘survivor’ stuff,” she says. “I’m just a person
who got sick.”
is a believer in personal responsibility, and she believes her responsibility is to make the world a better place in any way
she can. She’s honored to live in Madison, “where
there are 2,500 non-profit agencies (and where there are) high-quality, intelligent people civically engaged.”
she’s disappointed, too, that many promising developments of the 1960s and 1970s have not yet come to fruition. “I’m
mortified by what has become of my own generation,” she says. “But we are learning that the story of man is not
a steady ascent, put a pendulum that swings.”
as a businesswoman, she’s “one of those people I ‘dissed’ in my youth.” But she kept her business,
which she’d purchased from her ex-husband, because of her ideals, not in spite of them. “Having the business seemed
like a burden, but then I thought, ‘This business supports 140 families. What will happen to them?’ So I provide
jobs for people. I find it hilariously funny to be involved in economic things in this town.”
in her maturity, she’s come to realize that one’s value to society is not just about having – or not having
– money. “I’m still me, and I ask the same questions,” she says. “Can I maybe help someone?
Can I be a decent person today?”
Rosen Weston is the founder of the Madison law firm of Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach, LLP, where she is now affiliated
as “Of Council.” She has been teaching courses including Civil Procedure, Torts, Constitutional Law, Professional
Responsibilities, Family Law and Legal Process at the University of Wisconsin law school since the 1970s, and spent more than
20 years in private practice as a litigator in state and federal courts here.
is also the CEO of The Douglas Stewart Company, the second-largest woman-owned business in the State of Wisconsin. The company is a worldwide leader in providing innovative solutions for manufacturers
and software publishers, and is the preferred supplier to thousands of academic resellers. The company has recently expanded
to serve the United Kingdom market.
has served as a Dane County Court Commissioner, Chair of the Dane County Civil Service Commission, board member of the Wisconsin
State Bar Family Law Section, vice president of the ACLU of Wisconsin and Master Bencher of the James E. Doyle Inns of Court.
She is the recipient of many awards including the National Association of Women Business Owners – Wisconsin Chapter’s
2005 Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year.