Nan Heald

Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine during 1990 – 2022. Guided innovative work on technology, veterans, foreclosures, debt collection and other issues.

Nan Heald

Person details

Where most active professionally: Maine and Rural America
Law type: Civil
Lists: In Memoriam
Source: CNEJL
Date deceased: Jan 20, 2022


Nan Heald

Nan Heald was Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine during 1990-2022. She ran Maine’s oldest and largest statewide legal services program, that serves more than 28,000 low-income individuals each year and hundreds of thousands who rely on Pine Tree websites for plain language explanations of the law. Liaison with federal, state and private funding sources, collective bargaining units, the private bar and other entities involved in the administration of justice. She died in 2022.

What others say

Remembering Nan Heald (by Dan Emery, President, Pine Tree Legal Assistance Board, Jan. 2022)

Nan Heald, Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, 1990 – 2022
Pine Tree Legal Assistance is sad to announce the passing of its esteemed executive director Nan Heald.
Nan was a great many things to a great many people – a loving wife and mother, a fearless leader, a strong advocate, a mentor, a friend.

Nan will be missed. She has made a tremendous difference in countless lives and has changed this world for the better. Most importantly, Nan cared. Her long, accomplished career comes down to one thing – helping people. Her many skills were means to that end. I don’t think the awards she won meant as much to her as the victories of Pine Tree clients who had nowhere else to turn. She was a joy and an inspiration to work with, and we will be guided by her example.

She will be remembered as a legendary figure who fought for decades to ensure that state and federal laws affecting poor people were upheld and to address systemic barriers to justice.

Nan was a passionate, innovative, and dedicated legal aid champion and an inspiration to leaders in the legal services community across the country.

Nan passed away on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, from complications related to cancer. She died at home surrounded by her family and many of her friends from Smith College.

Nan grew up in Oquossoc in the western mountains of Maine, graduating from Smith College in 1977 and George Washington University Law School in 1980.

Immediately following law school, Nan worked for five years for the federal government and in private practice. In 1985, she joined Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Maine’s oldest and largest legal aid provider, as a staff attorney in its Native American Unit. Her primary responsibility in that position was to redress the exclusion of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs from the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was eventually achieved through passage of federal legislation providing federal recognition to the tribe.

In 1990, at the age of 34, Nan became executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance and served in that position until the time of her death.

Through the creative use of funding opportunities and other leveraged support, her leadership has enabled Pine Tree to strengthen and expand legal services to diverse client populations and in new areas of law, and to make justice more accessible for all the people of Maine.
When Nan became the executive director, Pine Tree Legal Assistance had a budget of $2.8 million and received funding from five grants. In 2021, Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s budget is over $7 million and the organization has more than two dozen grants, a thriving fundraising program, and an endowment.
Under Nan’s leadership, Pine Tree Legal Assistance has become a nationally recognized leader in innovative uses of technology to advance access to justice and legal aid. Nan encouraged the innovative use of technology to expand access to legal information and self-help tools, an effort which began in 1996 with creation of, the first legal aid website in the country to include self-help resources. By constantly adding high quality and user-friendly original content, the website remains one of the most popular legal aid websites in the country.

Nan has expanded access to legal aid for many vulnerable populations in Maine. Under her leadership, Pine Tree Legal Assistance formed Maine’s first and only children’s law project, Kids Legal, significantly expanded support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and launched programs serving low-income veterans, including a medical-legal partnership at Maine’s VA hospital and, a national website for veterans and service members. has been commended by the Pentagon as an “innovative community practice” and a recent VA directive encourages its use for homeless veterans.
Other projects developed under Nan’s leadership include a clinic for low-income taxpayers, a nationally recognized foreclosure and consumer program, and a housing discrimination.

Nan served on the national Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Eviction Task Force, the LSC Veterans Task Force, and the Advisory Committee of Providers to Maine’s Justice Action Group. She has also served on the national LSC Task Force on Pro Bono, the Maine Judicial Branch’s Advisory Committee on Fees, and the ABA Veterans Legal Services Commission.

In 2011, she was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change. In 2015, she earned the American Bar Association’s Grassroots Advocacy Award, and in 2018 became a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Nan was recognized as one of the inaugural Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2005), selected as a MaineBiz “Woman to Watch” (2010), received the ACLU’s Justice Louis Scolnik Award (2010), and the Maine Justice Foundation’s Howard H. Dana Award (2018). She has also been honored for her work by the Maine Veterans Coordinating Committee and the Maine Judicial Branch, among others.

She is survived by her husband, Frank D’Alessandro, her daughter, Bei Heald, stepchildren Daniel D’Alessandro and his wife, and Katie D’Alessandro and her husband, and two grandchildren.
Nan was an amazing person, who has had a deep and meaningful impact on our state and country. She was loved and admired and will be deeply missed.

Remembering Nan Heald (email by NLADA, Jan. 28, 2022)

The civil legal aid community was deeply saddened by the death of Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA), the statewide provider in Maine. Nan passed away on January 20th from complications related to cancer.

Nan was widely admired and respected by her peers across the country, known especially for her innovative approach to delivering legal assistance, her broad understanding of organizational management and resource development, and her willingness to share her ideas openly with her colleagues and provide meaningful mentorship to so many in the field. But, most of all, Nan is remembered today for her passionate commitment to Pine Tree’s clients throughout Maine. Her professional career was dedicated to ensuring that all people in Maine were heard and had a fair chance to succeed, regardless of their income level or other disadvantages that might affect their lives.

Upon graduation from George Washington University School of Law, Nan began her legal career in private practice and government service. She found her true calling, however, when beginning as a staff attorney at PTLA in 1985, when she immediately got to work successfully pursuing tribal rights and recognition for the Aroostook Band of the Mi’kmaq people, an indigenous tribe of rural Maine and Canada. Nan maintained over her career a special passion for the rights of Native Americans, farmworkers, communities of color, and other rural, isolated populations eligible for PTLA’s services.

Upon becoming executive director of PTLA in 1990, Nan embarked on a remarkable three+ decades of leadership, innovation, and impact that resonated not only in Portland and Augusta, but also with her colleagues across the equal justice community. While Nan hired and developed a terrific staff of advocates at PTLA, she also inspired her colleagues with support and innovation that helped improve the delivery of civil legal aid throughout the United States.

Under Nan’s leadership, PTLA cast a wide net in attacking poverty and injustice in Maine. Kids Legal, an initiative focusing on the legal needs of children became the first such program in the state addressing those problems. PTLA became a national leader in its advocacy on behalf of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, consumer and mortgage scams, landlord/tenant issues, housing discrimination, and health care rights and needs.

Beyond the strong advocacy environment developed by PTLA under Nan’s watch, she was responsible in substantial part (with the PTLA staff) for fostering new ideas that drove an enormous amount of innovation across the country, with a dramatic positive effect for the client community.

  • Technology. PTLA was ahead of most of the legal aid community (and the legal profession itself) in understanding the potential that technology held to improve the delivery of legal assistance. The PTLA website, particularly the self-help tools developed for clients, was among the first in the nation providing a broad range of legal information to the public. It became a model for much of the legal aid website development that followed.
  • Medical-Legal Partnerships. The model of delivering legal services through partnerships between legal aid and medical facilities was pioneered, in part, by Nan and PTLA.
  • Advocacy for Veterans. Nan had a particular passion for ensuring that America’s veterans get a fair shake within the legal system for the serious legal problems that often followed them into civilian life. PTLA led the way in developing a national veterans’ legal website ( that provides critical legal information to veterans. Nan was also a fierce advocate for women veterans who suffered sexual assault in the military.
  • Federal Funding for Legal Aid. She played a critical role in helping educate federal agencies about the important role legal aid programs can play in helping to meet the goals of federal programs addressing client need. She was also readily available to help her colleagues across the country in the complicated business of accessing federal funding.
  • Equity and Fairness in the Legal System. Nan became appalled at how she saw women and people of color on her staff and in her client community being treated with disrespect in the state’s legal institutions. She attacked those disparities with the judiciary, courts, and other players in the justice system in Maine. She also led a national discussion on those issues that remains a vital and current conversation in the legal aid community.

In addition to her leadership in Maine and the national legal aid community, Nan was a great friend and supporter of NLADA. She was always a go-to source for us on all matters affecting delivery, and never shied away from sharing her knowledge with her peers at our conferences and other events. Nan was also a dear friend for her colleagues at NLADA:

Radhika Singh, NLADA’s VP, Civil Legal Services and Strategic Policy Initiatives, said of Nan:

“There are many ideals Nan embodied, and no descriptor, when applied to her, could ever be too gratuitous. But the one word that rises to the top is mentor – in every sense of the word. Despite often being the smartest and most experienced person in the room, Nan welcomed everyone into our community in a way that we felt seen, truly seen. She taught us in so many ways – probably often without even knowing she was doing so – to center clients in our work, to think outside the box, to be better advocates, and to be better people. How fortunate we have been to have known her.”

Don Saunders, who spent over 30 years working with Nan while at NLADA, remembered:

“The warmth that would resonate throughout a room when Nan would walk in was remarkable. Her colleagues uniformly held a deep and enduring respect for her work and for the compassion she showed for our clients and her colleagues. Anyone, however, who mistook Nan’s ready smile for the lack of a steely spine ready to take on injustice, prejudice, or poor judgment was quickly disavowed of that thought. I personally learned so much from Nan – whenever we faced a thorny problem in our national advocacy, she was always among the first people we would approach for advice. I can’t ever remember her being wrong on anything.”

Nan Heald leaves an incredible legacy as a legal aid advocate and colleague. All of us at NLADA mourn her loss and send our condolences to Frank, her children, and her many coworkers at PTLA.