Up to the task: Director of the OCBA settles into new role


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Even before she took over the reins as the executive director of the Oakland County Bar Association last January, Terri Ticknor Gilbert could trace more than a bit of history with the largest local bar association in the state.

In fact, her surname was well known in OCBA circles long before Gilbert became just the third head of the Oakland Bar in the past three decades.

“It just so happens that my mother-in-law (Kathryn Gilbert) was the director of the OCBA for 17 years before Lisa (Stadig Elliot) took over 13 years ago,” Gilbert related. “The joke going around is that this is a ‘closely held company.’”

One might think so except for the fact that Gilbert didn’t even tell her mother-in-law that she was in the running for the OCBA job until she landed the position following a nationwide search.

“She didn’t even know that I had applied for the job,” Gilbert said with a smile. “I didn’t want her to get her hopes up for me in the event that someone else was chosen, and I also didn’t want to put her in any sort of awkward position as a former director of the Oakland Bar. It just wouldn’t have been right.”

A habit of “doing the right thing” over the course of her career undoubtedly worked in Gilbert’s favor when it came time for the OCBA to choose a successor to Stadig Elliot. Following a series of interviews with Oakland Bar officials, Gilbert was chosen last November after a “comprehensive search that attracted candidates from across the state and country,” according to Jim Derian, then president of the OCBA.

“Terri brings a depth of leadership experience in nonprofit and government work,” Derian said in announcing Gilbert’s selection. “Her expertise in strategic planning, governance, human resources, training and technology will be great assets to our Foundation, board of directors, our staff, and our members of the Oakland County Bar Association.”

For the past five years, Gilbert served in an executive role with the Michigan Department of Human Services, where she was director of Child Welfare Funding and Juvenile Programs, overseeing a bureau budget of $450 million while also supervising three high security juvenile justice facilities. She also held roles as the agency’s director of Strategic Planning and as director of the Child Welfare Bureau during her tenure with the Department of Human Services.

Prior to joining the state agency, Gilbert held various leadership roles with Spectrum Human Services, a nonprofit organization in Southeast Michigan that delivers services in child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice, behavioral health, and substance abuse treatment.

It was during her time with Spectrum that Gilbert crossed paths with Stadig Elliot, who would leave the human services agency in 2000 to become executive director of the OCBA.

“Lisa has been a wonderful friend and someone I’ve greatly admired for many years,” Gilbert said. “She really made her mark during her 13 years with the OCBA, and I hope to continue her great work.”

Gilbert’s first day on the job was January 27, the date of the annual Fellows Reception for the Oakland County Bar Foundation, a wing of the OCBA that supplies funding for various legal aid programs and legal education initiatives.

“It was an opportunity for me to get my feet wet in a hurry, meeting some 200 people over the course of the evening,” Gilbert said of the annual event at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. “Lisa was there to help introduce me and it made for a very nice transition.”

Now, in her ninth month with the OCBA, Gilbert said she has gained traction with the workings of the organization that is governed by a 15-member board of directors headed by President Tom Howlett, an attorney with The Googasian Firm in Bloomfield Hills.

“I’ve been involved in virtually all of our major events that we hold over the course of the year, so that helps in giving me a framework for what we have traditionally done as a bar association,” Gilbert said. “The last remaining major event for me to experience first-hand is the annual Holiday Dinner, which we are happy to announce will be held at the Townsend Hotel in early December.”

Gilbert displayed her scheduling dexterity in late July when the OCBA’s annual golf outing was postponed the morning of the event by a power outage at Orchard Lake Country Club.

“We had to do a lot of scrambling that morning, calling up participants to notify them that the golf outing was postponed and that it would be rescheduled at a later date,” Gilbert said. “Our staff did a terrific job of letting everyone know and assuring them that we were taking steps to reschedule the outing before summer was over. Fortunately, we were able to find another date in early September when the course was available.”

Such attention to detail comes naturally for Gilbert, who guides a staff of 11 employees for the 3,125-member OCBA. Her focus is to be “customer-oriented” and to serve as a “proactive change agent with a participatory management style.” She honed those skills early in her career as the human resources director at Spectrum and then as the corporate training administrator for Blue Care Network.

Gilbert, who has a younger sister, is the daughter of two educators. Her mother, who passed away several years ago at age 73, was a librarian, while her father taught history and was a guidance counselor in Port Huron before retiring.

Her husband, Richard, grew up in Clinton Township, where he was a “math-lete.” As a software engineer, he has spent the past 20 years working for Ford Motor Co., currently helping manage its I.T. services in manufacturing plants around the globe.

“We complement each other well with our right brain, left brain qualities,” Gilbert said with a twinkle. “We are killer at ‘Trivial Pursuit.’”

The couple has two children, Jason and Elizabeth. A graduate of Detroit Catholic Central, Jason is a student at Eastern Michigan University, where he is pursuing a degree in linguistics and French. His sister is a bio-chem major at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, where she intends to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant.

“Like their parents, they have very different personalities,” Gilbert said of her children. “In many respects, they couldn’t be any more different. But, to us, that is just part of their charm.”


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