Wally Kelleman has been an overachiever since she was very young.
She graduated high school at the age of 16 and was a member of three national honor societies: National French, National Honor and the National Quill and Scroll Society. She was a high school newspaper editor in Kingston, N.Y.
At the age of 20, while the "flower children" were making history in a nearby place called Woodstock, she was already a wife, mother and registered nurse. She also worked part-time at a preschool.
After over a decade in nursing, including seven years in cardiovascular care, she decided to take her career to the next level. She made several efforts to become a physician, but things never seemed to come together.
A nun, who was the director of a nurse's association, gave her some unorthodox advice – get into law.
A Natural Transition
At the age of 30 Kelleman made the transition from nursing into law. She received a law degree from Western New England University School of Law, and an advanced degree from Emory University's school of law.
A trial attorney by training, elder law was something she fell into early on. She opened her own practice, Kelleman Law Firm, P.C., in Snellville in 1993, and she has been there ever since. She was already comfortable working with seniors as a nurse, and so it was a natural progression.
Elder abuse, according to Kelleman, is a common occurrence, and something that she takes on regularly. She is also in the beginning stages of forming a nonprofit called Trust Associates Inc., which would supply an executor, administrator or power of attorney for elders who may not have one.
Kelleman regularly teaches classes and gives lectures in the community on many different topics. One popular class is called “Aging is Risky Business: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You.”
She is working on a book by the same name.
Another class is called “We Wish You Long Life: How Do You Plan to Pay for it?” The classes are available to the public and professional caregivers.
Her concern and respect for elders came from a life-changing experience as a child: a couple in their 50s raised her as their foster child. They taught her how to plant a garden, drive a tractor and many other life skills that she would not have otherwise had.
A New Lease on Life
Life has brought her many blessings, but also a fair share of challenges. In 2007 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is currently in remission.
Then, in 2008, she was struck by a car as she was on her way to a lawyer's meeting.
“The car came around the corner and plowed into me,” she said.
Her right leg was broken in five places; it was five months before she could walk again. She was not fully healed until nine months later.
Her faith got her through those very difficult circumstances, and she believes that she has more to accomplish while she is still on earth.
The list of things she has already accomplished is lengthy. She is the former editor of ElderCare Matters, a publication of Georgia ElderCare Network, and sits on many boards in Gwinnett County. She often serves as pro bono attorney in the metro Atlanta area and is a member of ElderCare Matters, the Elder Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia, the Gwinnett County Bar Association, the Gwinnett Senior Provider's Network and the National Elder Law Academy, among others.
She is also a guest lecturer at Emory University's lifelong learning division.
The demands of marriage, her two children, Lili and Christopher, and her clients have been demanding at times throughout her life, but Kelleman doesn't live to work, she “works to live.”
“As important as work is,” she said, “that has to be this life that we're given.”
Because someone gave her a helping hand when she was a child, she tries to always give back to the community in a positive way.