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Alumni Profile - James Purnell III

purnellO. James Purnell III, who graduated from Hillyer in 1969, is a probate judge in Ellington, Connecticut, where, on a daily basis, he negotiates sensitive issues that affect children, the elderly, and the mentally retarded or mentally ill. 

His work involves dealing with estates, establishing conservators for those who need them, and making difficult decisions in regard to the safekeeping of children, particularly in relation to establishing guardianships, custody, and visitation rights. 

"The biggest challenge in my work," says Purnell, "is seeing children with problems in troubled families. I only have one shot to ensure that I’m doing the best I can for a particular child – to ensure that the child grows up safe and healthy." Parnell says that the best part about his job and his greatest joy is overseeing adoptions and officiating at weddings. 

Purnell, whose daughter also graduated from Hillyer, went on to graduate from Middlebury College in Vermont after his two years at Hillyer. He says Hillyer gave him the push he needed to get started on his academic career. "The faculty was completely interested in our development. We were being rooted on every step of the way." 

As an example of Hillyer’s level of involvement in both its current and former students, Purnell talks about the monthly phone calls he received from Kenneth Meinke, then Hillyer dean, while Purnell was at Middlebury. "He called me once a month just to check on me and make sure I was doing okay. It was that kind of attention that gave me the foundation I needed for a successful academic and professional life."