Some people, it is said, have smiles that light up a room. Chip Chiplin’s smile lit up the world, and his actions brought hope and joy to the lives of everyone lucky enough to know him. Chip passed away last July, after a two-year battle with cancer. We are honored to name him the recipient of this year’s NAELA Theresa Award posthumously.
As the eldest child of a career military parent, Chip lived on many military bases and attended elementary, junior high and high schools throughout the United States and in Germany. In 1961, Chip’s family settled in Vicksburg, where he attended Rosa A. Temple High School, where he sang in the school choir, played trombone in the marching band, ran track, and was a member of the Men’s Cavalier Club, which performed numerous service projects in the community. Chip graduated from Temple with honors in 1965 and with honors from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi in 1969, earning a Bachelor’s degree in English. While at Tougaloo College, Chip sang in the school’s choir, performed in many musicals, and was an exchange student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Chip would often spend the summers during his college years working in community programs and camps for disadvantaged and low-income adults and youths. His passion for helping others found him participating in Crossroads Africa, making two trips with the program – one to assist with the building of a school and the other to assist with the building of a bridge. This passion also led him to law school at the National Law Center, George Washington University, where he received his Juris Doctorate in 1972. The emphasis of his studies was on civil rights and constitutional law.
After completing law school, Chip began helping migrant workers who both worked and lived in deplorable circumstances and were severely underpaid or not paid at all. He also assisted people who were involuntarily institutionalized in mental facilities and who were being given antipsychotic drugs against their will, and in many cases, against their knowledge and need.
Chip’s public interest work brought him back to Washington, DC in 1986, and his career in Medicare advocacy began and continued until his death. He performed this admirable work as a Senior Policy Attorney and the Managing Attorney of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. Prior to that, his legal work was largely as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center (now known as Justice in Aging).
Chip was a fierce and tireless protector of the rights and safety of older adults. He had a special interest in health and long-term-care issues, elder justice, quality health care, legal services for older adults, and the Older Americans Act. Chip influenced policy in all of these areas. He was also active in NAELA for decades, teaching fellow attorneys how to help their clients gain access to Medicare and necessary care.
During those years, Chip both touched and was touched by so many colleagues dedicated to the health care needs and rights of older Americans. “Chip was one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known,” said Judy Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy and Chip’s longtime friend. “He was kind, courteous, keenly intelligent and full of good humor. He was a determined advocate and used his special blend of care and lawyering skills to truly be a ‘counselor’ at law for myriad individuals and important systemic change.”
With a love for music and singing, Chip auditioned for and began singing with the Washington National Cathedral Choral Society for many years, until his illness would not allow him to continue. It was through the Choral Society that he joined the St. Paul’s Rock Creek Episcopal Church. It did not take long before Chip joined in fellowship with the church, and he remained a faithful member for more than 30 years.
Chip was soft spoken, with a kind heart and great character. He wore a permanent beautiful big smile, and always had kind words for and about everyone.
It is with the greatest respect and appreciation that we name Chip Chiplin this year’s NAELA Theresa Award honoree. He will live forever in the hearts of all who knew him.