You might say Janet Varon has stayed the course as she navigated her career. The founder and director of NoHLA, Northwest Health Law Advocates (www.nohla.org), has always worked, through legal and legislative means, to right societal wrongs.
Growing up in Riverdale, the Bronx, she attended Harvard for undergraduate and law school, making her, I guess, one of those Harvard lawyers.
Before law school, “I worked for a couple of years in a hospital,” the Bronx Science grad told me, and “got interested in health policy.” After law school she turned to representing low-income clients, moving to Seattle to work for Evergreen Legal Services, which became Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.
Janet Varon, founder and director of Northwest Health Law Advocates. (Photo: Ed Munoz)
Janet returned to healthcare issues in the mid ’90s when “there was an attempt at healthcare reform on the state level,” she says.
While she did some consulting when her daughters Rebecca and Laura were young, she had long dreamed of forming an organization like NoHLA. Close friends pushed her — and helped her — fulfill her dream.
NoHLA “represents the interests of consumers in health care,” explains Janet, particularly low- and moderate-income consumers struggling to afford and acquire health coverage and care. “People are balancing rent, food and basic needs against insurance premiums.”
It also provides legal representation, support to other organizations, community information, lobbying and policy analysis. “We are a voice for consumers in policy discussions,” she says, “focusing on the impacts of both health reform and budget cuts,” and now, how the Affordable Care Act helps uninsured Washingtonians.
Janet assumes she’s not related to other local Varons. She hasn’t met anyone in the Seattle area whose ancestors came from her grandfather’s birthplace of Gallipoli, Turkey. Admittedly, she’s “been working a lot lately,” she says, but makes time for yoga, biking, and travel, “when I can.” She and her husband Ed Munoz are members of Temple Beth Am where she’s served on the synagogue’s tikkun olam (repairing the world) committee, which has identified “health care reform as an important issue” that “relates to the Jewish value of healing the sick.”
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In June, Aberdeen resident Alan Rammer received the National Marine Educators top prize for his Tidepool Discoveries organization that brings marine-life education to kids in classrooms and beaches on our state’s western edge.
The Central Valley, Calif., native came to the University of Washington to study marine biology in the 1970s. He then landed a series of temporary jobs with the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Aberdeen area, but never thought he’d stay.
“I thought it was dreary and bleak,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get out.”
But that ol’ Northwest magic took hold.
“People here are warm, they’re caring,” he says. Starting full-time in 1980, he was asked to develop a marine education program, focused on clamdiggers.
“I learned a lot of four-letter words in lots of combinations” at community meetings designed to teach conservation and stewardship, he says. He also learned not to take it personally. Eventually the program expanded to include finfish and crabs, and visiting schools and county fairs.
Alan worked 30 years for the department, and is proudest of his efforts with Asian and Pacific Islander communities, using patience and youth involvement to reach groups that were resistant to authority.
When budget cuts killed the program three years ago, he formed Tidepool Discoveries, bringing marine biology to schools. We’re still losing the clean water and conservation battles,” he says, “but I won’t give up.”
When not educating, Alan enjoys visiting “places people usually leave alone.” He’s camped in Mongolia, boated down the Yangtze and seen Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.
He’s also done extensive genealogy, discovering that his parents were second cousins — making him and his brother third cousins. (He says they look remarkably alike.) As treasurer of Aberdeen’s Temple Beth Israel, he laments that it is losing members from age and attrition. There are “no jobs here,” he says. “Young people have all fled.”
Aside from an upcoming trip to Paris, Alan is greatly anticipating the movie version of “The Highest Tide.” Author Jim Lynch job-shadowed Alan extensively when he wrote his first novel, and based the Professor Kramer character on Alan. The film is rumored to be going into production soon.
So who does Alan think should play him? Richard Dreyfuss, Hollywood’s most famous marine biologist character, would be Alan’s first and most obvious choice — not that anyone is asking.