When Paul Bouton interviewed Ruth Silman for an associate’s position at law firm Nixon Peabody in 2000, he remembers being so impressed that he gave her an offer before she left the building.
“She connected with people in a way that I haven’t seen very much in my career or life,” said Bouton, a partner in the firm’s affordable housing group in Boston who worked with Silman for more than 20 years. “She made a connection with me in fifteen minutes that I knew this woman needed to work at Nixon Peabody.”
Silman, who served as the firm’s first female office managing partner in Boston and was regarded by many colleagues as the heart and soul of the office, died Wednesday following a yearslong battle with a severe form of squamous cell carcinoma. She was 52.
“She will always be remembered as a strong and thoughtful colleague and friend who brought passion and energy in each interaction she had with both our clients and NP personnel,” Steve Zubiago, Nixon Peabody’s chief executive officer and managing partner, said in a firmwide memo.
Silman focused on environmental, energy, and land-use issues, and was especially dedicated to getting affordable housing built. She worked on “almost every” affordable housing project that came through the firm, Bouton said.
Some of her fondest professional accomplishments included her work on the Old Colony development in South Boston and the redevelopment of the Ames Shovel Works in Easton, Zubiago said in his memo.
“Everyone enjoyed working with her,” said Darcy Jameson, vice president of development at Beacon Communities, who worked on the Old Colony project with Silman for more than a decade. “I don’t know very many people who are as smart and as kind. She was a natural educator, a mentor, and friend to everyone.”
A graduate of Cornell University and Boston University School of Law, Silman joined Nixon Peabody after working in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and as an associate at Anderson & Kreiger.
She served as office managing partner between 2016 and 2019, before stepping down to focus on her health, and guided the firm’s Boston office move in 2019 — which some colleagues nicknamed “the house that Ruth built.” Silman helped with artwork for the space, enlisting pieces from underresourced area youth and artists living with homelessness or disabilities, said Chris Froeb, comanaging partner of the Boston office at Nixon Peabody.
“She really took it upon herself to say, ‘We’re going to have a cool place, with cool art and a story to tell,’ ” he said. “I just wouldn’t have thought to do this.”
In her free time, Silman served as a mentor to dozens within the firm and beyond, and championed diversity and inclusion. She sat on the boards of the Environmental Business Council of New England and the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden Cancer Support Center. She enjoyed spending time with her family, the outdoors, and skiing, said Jameson, of Beacon Communities.
Silman’s father, Robert Silman, the structural engineer credited with saving Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa., died in 2018. Silman leaves her husband, Tim, and children Phoebe and Jacob. Her memorial service will be held Friday in her hometown of Harvard.
An earlier version of this story gave the wrong day of Silman’s death.