Elaine Hanlon of Providence, a dedicated veteran investigator for the Rhode Island Public Defender’s office, died at Rhode Island Hospital last week after suffering an apparent heart attack at a July Fourth picnic. She was 54.
Universally known as `Laney,’ Hanlon was known for compassion towards her impoverished clients and her tenacity in helping them obtain justice in the Rhode Island legal system.
At her death she was deputy chief investigator for the RI public defender’s office. Her colleagues remember her legendary advocacy for those too poor to afford private legal representation. At Laney’s wake Sunday evening in Warwick, state Public Defender Mary McElroy recalled a case years back where an inmate was released from state prison only because Laney took on his case.
The inmate has been released from prison but spent months in jail because his paperwork got lost in the prison bureaucracy. The inmate met Laney during one of her visits to the Adult Correctional Institutions and told her his story. She spent weeks tracking down the lost documents and presented the evidence to authorities, who finally gave the man his freedom.
That battle was typical of so many that Hanlon fought over her 30 years as an investigator for the state lawyers who defend those too poor to afford lawyers. She was a consistent tribune for justice in the state’s prisons and courts, a voice for people who had none.
“She was incredibly smart,’’ said McElroy. “She could have done just about anything she wanted with her life but she chose something that was not so well compensated. She was compassionate… Everybody in the pd office just loved and admired her.’’
She was also, as McElroy put it, “a very calming presence.’’ Hanlon was beloved by her family, many friends and especially, by her 22 nieces and nephews and 5 great-nieces and nephews. “Auntie Laney’’ was a generous, humorous and compelling presence in the lives of her family.
Hanlon was a native of Westwood, Mass., and a magna cum laud graduate of Wheaton (Mass.) College in 1979 with a degree in Romance Languages. She was active in women’s issues and had recently been appointed as state director of Unite Woman, a political action group.
Hanlon mixed a dry humor with a fierce intellect. She will be sorely missed by her many friends, colleagues and clients.