Dorothy Easley ’83

Dorothy with her beloved rescued greyhounds.
Dorothy with her beloved rescued greyhounds.

Original Hometown: Rocky Mount, NC
Current City/ State: Coral Gables, FL
Major while at WWC: Environmental Management, sub-concentration in Economics.
Work Crew at WWC: Environmental Education; Organic Gardening Crew; Forestry Logging Crew
Primary Service Efforts at WWC: Designing and assembling an electrical cone exhibit for the Western North Carolina Nature Center.
Current Job Title (and name of Organization): Former research forest geneticist; Appellate Lawyer and Owner, Easley Appellate Practice PLLC.

Like many would-be Warren Wilson students, Dorothy Easley found herself drawn to the College for its “cool” work program and celebrated academics. Upon her first visit, she met with Dr. Alan Haney and several students in his Environmental Management Program, all of whom seemed to have, Dorothy recalled “[A] sense of calm on the outside, but intense intellectual curiosity on the inside.” This mixture of intellect and earthiness made a strong first impression and it wasn’t long before she was working alongside classmates and teachers as an Environmental Management Major.

Once here, Dorothy quickly found a love of the hard work ethic she was gaining, feeling it was the kind of work ethic her parents had always wanted her to have but was something that could only be gained by “going through the process of learning how to work hard…really hard.” She recalled the encouragement she was given while working on the Environmental Education Work Crew her first year with Laura Haney, a supervisor who believed that a student could do anything given the supervision and motivation. In the classroom, she credits Dr. Dean Kahl and Dr. Don Collins for never doubting her abilities or discouraging her career aspirations. Dr. Haney in particular was supportive of Dorothy’s industrial forestry/genetics interests that deviated from the “purer” Environmental Management aspects. “Many students understandably bristled at some of my comments…[but] Dr. Haney knew I was becoming interested in population genetics and did not discourage my interests,” Dorothy said.

“The opportunities to learn how to work translated, for me, into working hard in the academics and becoming part of a community, which in turn built a commitment to serve others.”

Dorothy found she could even surprise herself with her work ethic, remembering how she and the other members of Ian Robertson’s first Organic Gardening Crew were more than a little concerned about the prospect of achieving all that was expected of them. By the end of the summer, however, they had built and tended to a praise-worthy garden. “We were,” she said, “frankly, surprised at ourselves. I was raised on a farm and had gardens, but I never appreciated that a garden could be both functional and beautiful.” Whether it was work, service, or academics, the supportive and encouraging attitudes of her professors and work crew bosses inspired Dorothy and propelled her to work harder and expect more and better things from herself. She feels great respect and gratitude for mentors Laura Haney, Alan Haney, Vicki Collins, Dean Kahl, Don Collins, Ian Robertson and all her classmates with whom she was able to experience so much at WWC. “They made me laugh, cry, [get] frustrated, and they motivated me to work harder and appreciate life and community on a deeper level,” Dorothy said, “I have tried to continue to apply those principles in everything I have done since.”

WWC GARDEN CREW PHOTO Dorothy Easley and Ian Rob
WWC Organic Gardening Crew with instructor Ian Robertson.

“Choose mentors, and choose them carefully. They are not always the most vocal or those with the most time, but they are the ones that want to help you…and their words will ring true.”

When it came time to plan for life after graduation, Dr. Haney took Dorothy’s interests to heart and suggested she apply to graduate programs in the North. Having already spent some time studying in Latin America, Dorothy felt a pull to become a research scientist and selected the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY/ESF) for their strong research and international forestry programs. Dorothy was the first person in her family to go to school outside of the South and she remembers wandering around Syracuse, New York wondering if the school had made a mistake accepting her into the program. “Some of the graduate students were condescending, made fun of my accent, and because I had limited funds, my very poor dress,” Dorothy recalled, “but that fizzled out after first semester grades came out. My work ethic caught the attention and support of the SUNY professors.”

“I was intimidated studying alongside a lot of New Yorkers, who are very, very hard working and ambitious. I was taken aback by students coming up to me and asking about my GPA, being so competitive. So I pulled out the WWC hard work ethic that I’d learned, and worked harder.”

While working on her M.S. in forest genetics from SUNY, Dorothy was able to follow her passion for tropical soils and worked for the United States Forest Service mapping soils of El Yunque National Forest, located in northeast Puerto Rico and the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. While there, she was once again able to impress critical colleagues and supervisors with her willingness and ability to dig alongside the all-male crew in huge pits from which soil samples were collected. “[The] Soil Scientist, who loved to bust my chops, softened up when he saw I was digging with the work crew, coming back as dirty as everyone else on the crew, and that we were drinking from the same water tanks and coffee dispensers,” Dorothy remembered. She returned to New York having forged mutual respect and genuine friendships with her colleagues through her hard work and dedication.

“I cannot imagine being tough enough and confident enough to stick with it in Puerto Rico and eventually building those community relationships that also established the foundation for a strong academic experience if I had not been educated at Warren Wilson.”

While finishing her M.S. in forest genetics from SUNY/ESF, Dorothy was offered a job at Carton de Colombia, a Colombian pulp and paper company that had become a division of the Irish-owned Jefferson Smurfit. After defending her Master’s thesis and graduating with highest honors, Dorothy and her new husband moved to Colombia. There she worked with a Ph.D. to identify, clone, and plant Eucalyptus grandis, a type of tree that was needed to boost the nation’s pulp and paper industry and ultimately, the economy. Despite loving the chance to work in the field evaluating and selecting the genetically superior Eucalyptus grandis for clonal propagation, Dorothy’s contract came to a close a short while later as cartel and guerrilla fighting within the country became a serious danger.

Thanks to her husband’s job with Temple Inland, a packaging and building production company, Dorothy spent the next four years in Texas. Unfortunately, the area did not have a high demand for forest geneticists, but refusing to be deterred, Dorothy drew on a passion she had cultivated at Warren Wilson and began a culinary herb and gourmet vegetable business. She set up large, very long raised beds in a five-acre field, and in preparation for the business’ first winter, she built long greenhouses which she heated with a wood stove at either end. Her hard work paid off, and much to the shock of her neighbors, she soon had delicious organic culinary herbs and vegetables growing despite low temperatures.

Although fun, the business was not very profitable, and after a few years, Dorothy found a position at Temple Inland where her fluency in Spanish allowed her to work in the Latin American sales department. Prior to hiring her, the department had been stalling; Dorothy used her work ethic to kick things into gear. “Everyone else was leaving the office at 5 p.m.,” she recalled, “[Meanwhile] I was still there at 9 p.m. faxing forms and documents to Latin American companies and making sure their orders were moving forward.” While her hard work had undeniably helped improve the department, Dorothy decided to leave Temple Inland when they decided to cut her salary based on her marital status. The company said that because she was married, she could rely on her husband to support her and did not need to make as much money as she had been making.

Wanting to work in a field she was passionate about and being from a long line of lawyers and doctors, Dorothy sat for the LSAT and decided to apply to law school. She was drawn to the University of Miami School of Law because of their international law program and the area’s similarity to Latin America. The area was a perfect match for her interests, but she found herself worried about not measuring up to the other students at UM Law. But once again, Dorothy stayed on top of her work by remaining diligent, recalling “Both feet were on the floor every day at 6 a.m., and I did not stop working until 11 p.m.”

Dorothy Easley Professional
Dorothy Easley, founder of Easley Appellate Practice P.L.L.C.

“I pulled out my WWC hard work ethic and fought my fears by working harder and working smart.”

While tackling law school, Dorothy was able to intern at an appellate court where she had the chance to work with appellate judges and their judicial law clerks. Although she had originally wanted to practice international law, the level of intense intellectual exchange between the judges and lawyers in the appellate forum impressed Dorothy so much she knew she had to be an appellate lawyer. “Appellate law is similar to being a research scientist,” Dorothy explained, “in that it involves a lot of heavy research, analysis, and writing.”

After becoming certified by The Florida Bar in appellate practice, Dorothy settled in the vibrant city of Miami where she enjoys the intriguing legal issues that arise from such a diverse population. She is currently managing partner of Easley Appellate Practice PLLC and was recognized in Rue Ratings’ Best Attorneys of America (top 1%), Florida Super Lawyers, and The South Florida Legal Guide as a top tier appellate lawyer for excellence and leadership in the practice of appellate law. Additionally, she recently published the second edition of her federal appellate treatise, Successful Federal Appeals in All Circuit Courts: A Practical Guide for Busy Lawyers, which she assures is a real page turner!

“The Triad experience has also given me [the] courage to work through problems that are foreign to me.”

Despite her busy legal career, Dorothy and her husband still return to North Carolina on a regular basis to work on restoring a recently purchased 100-year-old log house near Asheville. The two decided they wanted to restore the log house using centuries old restoration methods. “We’re not skilled craftsman,” Dorothy explained, “but we’re educated. We know how to read, research, [and] approach solving problems.” The two worked together to teach themselves and reached out to experts in their community to get advice on the project. “This is all a product of the WWC mentality,” she said, “that we are perpetual students, humble learners, know we need community, and we leave WWC equipped to solve the many problems that we will face the rest of our lives.”

“No one accomplishes anything truly alone. We are a species that needs community, relationships, and mentoring

True to her early passions, Dorothy has already started a garden at the log cabin and is currently planning what tree species to plant. “The process is incredibly slow,” she said, but it helps her stay connected to the earth and her feelings of “responsibility to leave the earth in better shape than when [she] got here,” a responsibility she learned from her mentors and experiences during her time at Warren Wilson and that have “integrated into [her] life in ways [she] did not plan.” Even now, she has an organic garden at her home in Miami and jokes with colleagues that she uses law to support her gardening habit. “I still feel this need to dig and sweat, and find it especially helpful when I’m working through appellate issues to mull them over in my head,” said Dorothy, who feels that gardening really is the best therapy of all.

“Love yourself. Love your environment. Nurture your gifts. You have been given them for a reason. Do what you can, in your own personal way, to make the world better. If you can leave the world without messing it up more, that’s a real legacy. Those are the thoughts imparted to me from my WWC experience.”

by Mary Fields ’16