Barbara Macholz Grimaldi, 32, of Narberth, who fought systemic injustice as a nonprofit executive, died Friday, June 14, of metastatic breast cancer at her home.
Ms. Grimaldi was chief strategy officer of the Public Interest Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that centers its work on education, environmental justice, voting, and related matters. Her enthusiasm for that work — in support of cases such as a landmark school-funding lawsuit on behalf of struggling Pennsylvania children and another that challenged gerrymandering in Pennsylvania — was not dimmed by her fierce four-year battle with cancer.
She was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., and educated at Muhlenberg College, where she studied English and Spanish and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After college, Ms. Grimaldi lived in New York and Chicago, working in development and communications for organizations focused on alleviating poverty.
In 2013, Ms. Grimaldi joined the Public Interest Law Center as a communications associate. It was work that mattered to her deeply, and she quickly moved into the role of director of development and communications, a job she held until late last year, when she became chief strategy officer.
Ms. Grimaldi had a tough task as one of the only non-lawyers in a law office, but she turned that into a strength, colleagues said. She understood the law, and she helped translate it in a way that convinced laypeople of the work’s importance.
“Somehow she could speak more thoughtfully and more strategically about our cases than the lawyers who were working on them,” said Dan Urevick-Acklesberg, a Public Interest Law Center staff attorney. “She could connect a legal theory to the fundamental reason why we were bringing a case to begin with.”
Jennifer Clarke, the law center’s executive director, said Ms. Grimaldi always focused on the people behind the cases.
“She was the one who always reminded us of the exact experience that they were having,” Clarke said. “She always asked, ‘Why are we doing this? What is it accomplishing? How can this make our clients’ lives better?'”
Nearly four years ago, when Ms. Grimaldi was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer that spread to her brain, she was determined to continue to work as much as she could. She would take time off or scale back her responsibilities when her health warranted it, but she still performed at a high level.
When the gerrymandering case was being heard, Ms. Grimaldi spent long days in court in Harrisburg, and would then work into the night translating what had happened into language the general public could understand. And when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reinstated the school-funding case, Ms. Grimaldi left her oncologist’s office and headed back to her office to help craft a communications strategy.
“If you didn’t know that she was going through incredibly intense cancer treatments, if you just looked at the job she was doing, you wouldn’t know at all how sick she was,” Urevick-Acklesberg said. “She was just so good at her job.”
She loved sheep and dogs, and was an enthusiastic devotee of Wegmans supermarkets, which she took care to note in the obituary she crafted for herself in the last year of her life. She was deeply committed to her Lutheran faith, and she cherished time spent on family vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Ms. Grimaldi was deeply kind, had a good sense of humor, and could be “lovingly sarcastic,” said her father, the Rev. John Macholz. And she was a straight shooter.
“You always knew where you stood with Barb,” Macholz said.
In addition to her father, survivors include her husband, Matthew; mother Linda Macholz; and a brother.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, 597 East Ave., Rochester. A reception will follow.