Legal clinic founder and Charleston Law professor, Ginny Meeks remembered for her fierce passion

The following story was written by Mia Mendez and originally published by Vital Signs, a Roper St. Francis Hospital publication.

Virginia “Ginny” Darden Meeks’ legacy as a fierce healthcare advocate who provided pro bono legal services continues to grow and serve cancer patients even six years after she lost her own battle to breast cancer.

Even before her breast cancer diagnosis, Meeks championed cancer patients taking control of their own healthcare decisions through a free legal clinic, a collaborative effort between Roper St. Francis Cancer Center and the Charleston School of Law. 

Harkening back to the memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, her colleagues acknowledged she faced the same questions of life, purpose and mortality from both the perspective of a healthcare decisions legal expert and as a cancer patient.

“Ginny went from advising patients of the Cancer Center on the legal aspects of healthcare decisions to being a patient of the Cancer Center,” said Michelle Condon, a lawyer, professor and director of externships and public service and pro bono at the Charleston School of Law. “She would joke she needed to give herself legal advice when she met with clients after her diagnosis.”

Meeks and Condon founded the legal clinic in 2015 by partnering with the Roper St. Francis Cancer Center to provide oncology patients with pro bono services, including preparing durable and medical powers of attorney and a living will for cancer patients and their spouses.

“She spoke with such fervor about the clinic,” said Donna Fielding Cancer Wellness Institute Manager Shelley Usher. “She understood from years of estate planning how difficult it was to decide who will care for you when you’re at your most vulnerable.

Usher was a long-time friend of Meeks. They shared their experiences as working mothers, taking turns tackling school events and carpooling. She remembers her for her incessant humor, even in her scariest moments. 

“I was working as a nurse navigator in the RSFH system when I got a call from the breast center asking me to see a patient,” Usher said. “My heart sank when I heard her name. I walked into the room where Ginny was waiting to have her biopsy and she said, ‘Oh great, they called in the big guns.’” 

When Meeks was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, she continued to provide services through the legal clinic with a first-hand understanding of what patients were going through.  

“Ginny would schedule her legal clinic appointments around her own cancer treatments at the RSF Cancer Center,” Usher said. “She would tell the client, ‘I am right downstairs. I’ll be up in about 10 minutes.’ She would sit with the patients and tenderly review their paperwork. 

“The scarves on each of their heads seemed to provide comfort for them both.”   

A year after Meeks’ passing, Roper St. Francis Healthcare honored her memory by naming the Virginia Darden Meeks Legal Clinic after her. Still to this day, her friends and colleagues continue to hold the torch for the vision Meeks had for the clinic.

“Ginny would be so proud we are continuing the legal clinic in her honor with help from Ginny’s former student, Stefanie Huffer, who is now an estate attorney in Charleston, and students from the Charleston School of Law,” Condon said.

“Ginny also would give us a hard time for naming the clinic after her, as she always was so humble. I pass a beautiful portrait of Ginny in the law library at the Charleston School of Law every day, and I can hear her jokingly scolding us for all the attention.”

Roper St. Francis Healthcare and students from the Charleston School of Law are teaming up for the Virginia Darden Meeks Legal Clinic on Friday, September 22. Cancer patients and their families are invited to participate, for free. Advance Directives, living wills and health care POA can be completed during your appointment.