PUBLISHED:July 02, 2021

Alumna’s bequest supports Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and training of future environmental leaders


Amy Gillespie ’93, who died in 2019, devoted her career in public service to environmental protection, mentoring young lawyers along the way.

Amy Gillespie ’93 dedicated her entire legal career to protecting the environment and serving the public, first in the Office of the North Carolina Attorney General and then, for almost two decades, as an attorney in the Environmental Enforcement Section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Gillespie, who died in late 2019 after a long battle with ovarian cancer, was equally devoted to mentoring young attorneys at the DOJ, receiving an award for exceptional service in this regard in 2016.

Gillespie’s bequest to the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic reflects her passionate commitment to these endeavors and ensures they continue. The unrestricted gift of $50,000 supports the clinic’s work in training students from Duke Law School and the Nicholas School of the Environment to solve environmental problems and provide access to justice in underserved communities. They address a wide array of matters collaboratively, with insights and approaches drawn from their disciplines of law, policy, and science.

It is an approach that resonated with Gillespie, who was profiled in Duke’s Environmental Law Newsletter in 2017. “There’s no substitute for hands-on practice,” she said in an interview, noting her approval of the clinic’s growth and the Law School’s overall investment in clinical education.

Amy Gillespie (1966-2019)
Amy Gillespie '93 (1966-2019)

“Amy always believed that the work she was doing in environmental enforcement was important for society,” said her sister, Jennifer Gillespie. “She hoped future Duke Law grads would be both motivated and prepared to do such work.”

Her bequest is particularly meaningful for the clinic’s co-directors, Clinical Professors Ryke Longest and Michelle Nowlin JD/MA ’92. Longest and Gillespie became friends when they worked together in the N.C. Department of Justice. “Amy Gillespie’s career in pursuing justice represented the highest ideals of our profession,” he said. “As a gifted environmental law specialist, her record on behalf of the people of the United States as an advocate and counselor earned the highest praise and awards to be given by the United States Department of Justice. But it was her work as a mentor of younger attorneys in externships and early career advising that has cemented her legacy for decades to come. Her generous gift will advance the work we began so many years ago.” Gillespie, he added, was instrumental in his decision to apply to lead the new Duke Law clinic when it was launched in 2007. “She was excited about the work we were doing for clients, but also for the students at Duke Law,” he said.

In the 2017 profile, Gillespie described volunteering weekly in the Environmental Division of the N.C. Department of Justice during her third year of law school, a placement arranged through the Law School’s Pro Bono Project, the precursor to the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono. “I got wonderful exposure to the cases they work on and made some contacts,” she said. She also made an impression on the lawyers she worked with, who later reached out to her with news of a job opening as she was completing a post-graduate clerkship with Judge James Wynn, Jr., who was then on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Gillespie, who had honed her oral advocacy skills through participation in moot court, said she enjoyed the broad portfolio she carried over six years as a state environmental lawyer. In addition to handling a range of trial and appellate litigation, she drafted legislation and administrative rules, crafted opinions for the attorney general in response to inquiries from local officials, and advised and represented state agencies and boards in administrative matters.

“It was a great career move for a young law graduate, and one that I highly recommend,” she said, noting that the experience grounded her in the administrative process and helped her understand the perspective and needs of the states whose interests she often served when she got to the DOJ. Over her years of federal service Gillespie developed special expertise in the enforcement of hazardous waste and Superfund laws and supervised other attorneys assigned to those cases.

Associate Dean for Alumni and Development Kate Buchanan lauded Gillespie as a dedicated alumna who consistently supported Duke Law School throughout her life, both as a donor and an advocate and mentor to students and recent graduates. “We were humbled and grateful that Amy chose to supplement her lifetime contributions with a generous estate gift,” said Buchanan. Her legacy will be remembered and celebrated for years to come in the important work that our clinical faculty and students do for their clients.” 

Gillespie, a Minnesota native and graduate of St. Olaf College, where she majored in religion and language studies, served in leadership of her alma mater’s alumni board, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and Community Club, a tutoring program for high school students in the D.C. Public Schools, where she facilitated the college application process. She received the Community Club’s Award for Community Service in 2019.

“Amy’s focused determination and excellent sense of humor were a refreshing blend,” said Nowlin, who first got to know Gillespie as a student who shared her interest in environmental law — Gillespie was a member of the Environmental Law Society and on the editorial staff of the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum. They later were neighbors in Durham’s Watts-Hillandale district. “I especially loved that she had a huge poster of the Duke basketball team on the inside of her office door at the AG’s office, which she used to taunt her officemates whose allegiances were with State and Carolina. She was ‘Forever Duke,’ gracious with her network, and an excellent ambassador wherever she went.  We are humbled by her generous gift and will use it to honor her love of community and commitment to justice.”

To learn more about gift planning, visit this website or contact Kate Buchanan.