At 50, Judith E. Barnes Lancaster decided to go back to school to become a lawyer. She had done “just about everything” in the health care field, and she knew she didn’t want to be a doctor.
So she took the LSAT one time, applied to two law schools, got accepted both places and enrolled at the University of Akron.
Lancaster, now 78, is an attorney who provides special counsel to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and she’s one of the recipients of this year’s Women’s Impact award—an honor bestowed by an organization she helped start.
Before Lancaster earned her law degree from the University of Akron, she obtained her bachelor’s of science from Kent State University. She started her career in renal research at Mount Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, working with patients who needed kidney transplants. She left for a job as director of laboratories at Doctors Hospital in Massillon, where she established a tissue bank for human bone transplant.
She still sits on the board for the Northeast Ohio Medical University Foundation, and there’s a diversity scholarship offered there in her name.
Her work in the community extends beyond her legal practice, where she offers consultation to the state. In 2017, Lancaster chaired the executive committee of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and remains on the executive committee this year. Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dennis Saunier described her as “one of the nicest and classiest people you’ll ever meet.”
“Judith is a gem in our community,” Saunier said. “She has both served and led many of our local organizations. Her leadership style is quiet, yet strong, and she has a keen sense of business. The Chamber is a better organization because of her leadership.”
Lancaster is being honored this month by Women’s Impact. She and a handful of other women experiencing success in their careers founded the group because they saw a need for an organization that would help women hold prominent leadership positions and reach their full potential.
“Women should be able to do anything they want to do and be paid like the men to do it,” she said.
Lancaster’s passion for developing leadership in women earned her a seat on the board of ATHENA International, a nonprofit organization that recognizes and encourages female leadership. Lancaster served as vice chair and chair of ATHENA International and was on hand to present the global leadership award to actress Marlo Thomas in 2015.
Outside of work, Lancaster has six grandchildren, who are in their 20s. She wants them to know her as “the best grandma ever,” but they’re beginning to get to know her as a whole person, not just the woman who spoils them and bakes them cookies.
“To think they want to aspire to be like me, that’s very flattering,” she said.