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The time spent with his maternal grandmother helped Conor Ferrari McNulty, the 2013 Lucy Sprague Public Interest Scholarship recipient, learn that listening is the first step to helping. It is a special gift that he will use in public service work.
“Going into public service will not be a starting point,” McNulty said. “I already know it’s a lifetime commitment and I feel very comfortable with my choice. It is my vocation.”
McNulty, a May 2013 graduate of The John Marshall Law School, was presented with the $25,000 Sprague scholarship during the commencement ceremony. The scholarship was established in the memory of Lucy Sprague, who was a second-year student at The John Marshall Law School when she was murdered in December 1996. Her parents, Lee and the Honorable George R. Sprague (ret.), her sister, Cynthia, and brother, Alexander, established the scholarship to assist another student interested in a career in public service, as Lucy was. The award will help McNulty pay down his law school debt.
McNulty said after his grandmother moved into an assisted living facility in 2008, he visited with her every Sunday until her death in early 2013. He listened to this once independent woman who emigrated from Italy in 1950, sharing her concerns about getting old. She worried about her finances and whether there would be enough money to cover her needs.
As McNulty became acquainted with her at the care facility, he listened to their exact same concerns. He knew there were programs that offered help to the elderly, and also that it was not likely they were in a position to actively research the programs on their own. By listening, McNulty learned there were people who couldn’t help themselves. He decided to do something about it.
McNulty started working as an unpaid law clerk in February 2011 for the City of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel, and in June 2011, he was accepted as a law clerk for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Unit. “I felt so fortunate to get the position and knew this would be the beginning of my legal career. My grandmother was so proud of me and the fact that I was doing work that helped others,” he recalled.
“I quickly learned that the ‘victim’ wasn’t the only victim,” he said. Listening helped him learn about the victim’s family: a mom, dad, brothers and sisters. “In most cases, the family was in just as much pain as the victim,” McNulty added. “And in cases of homicide, the family was in more pain. A trial often causes the family to relive details of a sad and difficult event. As a law clerk, I witnessed this first hand.”
In January 2012, McNulty switched to the state’s attorney’s Public Corruption and Financial Crimes Unit helping “not only individuals who have been victimized, but also large groups of citizens who experienced helplessness at the hands of corrupt public officials.”
And, McNulty said the hit-and-run death of family friend helped him commit his life to public service. The family friend, an attorney in public service, showed McNulty first-hand how a commitment for honest government helped stop a real estate scheme in northern California that involved selling off state buildings that would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
McNulty, of Chicago, is the son of Valeri T. McNulty and Peter J. McNulty. He is a graduate of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill., and is a 2004 graduate of John Carroll University in Ohio.