As a lawyer and activist, Emily J. Novick focused on workers’ compensation and was devoted to protecting the rights of workers.
So it surprised some when she became an administrative judge in 2008, but colleagues said she handled the transition with her customary style and quickly proved to be impartial and thoughtful in her new role.
“Emily was a wonderful judge,” said Fred Taub, who also is a state administrative judge. “She had a history as an advocate throughout her career, and was very talented during the time she represented workers’ comp claimants. But when she came to be a judge, she was able to adapt very quickly, and she did the job very well.”
Ms. Novick, an administrative judge on the state Industrial Accident Board, died of lung cancer in her Brookline home Dec. 16. She was 63.
“She was someone who was able to bring us all together, and start discussions about any issues that came up,” Taub said. “She was thoughtful, empathetic, and intelligent, and she brought all those things to the hearing and handling of each of her cases.”
Ms. Novick’s husband, Steve Heikin, said that before she was diagnosed in August, they were planning a vacation, anticipating their son’s wedding, and “leading charmed lives.”
“She came late to being a judge, but she really loved it,” he said. “We both loved our work. She had a million friends. She was so happy.”
Born in Orange, N.J., Ms. Novick grew up nearby in West Orange, where in high school “she was everyone’s friend, and everyone wanted to be her friend,” said her sister, Martha of Westfield, N.J.
“She held onto her friends like glue because they were all so important to her,” she said. “She was just an extraordinary human being in every way.”
Martha said her sister showed uncommon “concern for humanity” even at a young age, probably because she was influenced by their grandfather, who was blacklisted from the shoe industry for being a union organizer, and by their parents, who taught them the importance of equality and inclusiveness. “She really integrated those lessons into her daily life,” Martha said.
Ms. Novick graduated from Tufts University in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and enrolled in New England School of Law. While there, she began working for a Dorchester-based firm specializing in workers’ rights.
Cary Playter, a partner in the firm, said Ms. Novick “did a little bit of everything,” but was particularly interested in helping workers form unions.
Ms. Novick continued working there after graduating from law school in 1975. In the late 1970s, she was named a partner in what became known as Kehoe, Doyle, Playter and Novick. For many years she represented people who suffered workplace injuries.
Playter said Ms. Novick “became one of the preeminent workers’ rights attorneys” in what was then a male-dominated field. “She led the way for women,” Playter said.
While still a law student, Ms. Novick befriended Kathleen Weremiuk when they were hitchhiking in Cambridge.
“It was a bitterly cold day, we were both trying to get a ride, and we just got to talking,” said Weremiuk, of California. “She was delightfully progressive.”
They later worked together in the Women’s Law Collective, and the National Lawyers Guild, legal organizations dedicated to social justice.
“She was a very thoughtful friend and very staunch in her support of women’s rights, civil rights, workers’ rights,” said Weremiuk, a lawyer who traveled with Ms. Novick to Mississippi and Louisiana for civil rights causes.
By 1986, she had decided to adopt and intended to raise a child alone. Around the same time, Weremiuk introduced her to Heikin, an architect.
“Kathy told me that Emily was in the process of adopting a baby,” Heikin said. “And I thought, ‘Well, OK, adoptions take a long time.’ But a couple of weeks after I met her, she said, ‘This baby will be on the scene shortly.’ ”
Just a month after they met, she adopted Ben, who was 6 days old. A year later, Ben walked down the aisle between his parents at their wedding. Five years after Ben was adopted, the couple adopted Aaron, who now lives in Brookline.
“She was ready to be a single mom, but she and my dad just made this instant family,” said Ben of Lincoln, R.I. “They were both there for me from the get-go.”
Ben and his mother were “closer than blood,” he said. “I could tell her anything, and she was always so honest with me. She just told it straight up how it was. She helped out so many people, and always did what she thought was right.”
During her illness, Ms. Novick helped Roxanne, then Ben’s fiancee, choose her wedding dress. Ms. Novick also “was such a great grandmother” to Roxanne’s daughter, Selena, Ben said. “Even when she was sick, she would run around with her, crawling under the kitchen table.”
She was a passionate gardener “in rain and in sunshine,” Ben said, recalling that Selena, 5, and his mother picked tomatoes together in August.
During her career, Ms. Novick helped health care and legal-aid workers form unions. In 1986 she was the first employee counselor appointed to the governor’s advisory council on workers’ compensation.
She also remained an active member of the National Lawyers Guild, which plans to honor her at its dinner in May.
In Brookline, she was elected to Town Meeting for eight years, until Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to be an administrative judge in 2008. She also served on the board of the Brookline Community Foundation, helped chair the town’s Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity committee, and was involved in her sons’ schools.
A service has been held for Ms. Novick, who in addition to her husband, two sons, sister, and granddaughter, leaves her mother, Miriam (Berliner) of Springfield, N.J.
Friends and colleagues will hold another gathering at 2 p.m. April 7 in United Parish in Brookline to celebrate her life.
Anne Sills of Newton, a labor lawyer who met Ms. Novick while both were Tufts students, purchased a two-
family house with her years ago.
“It was so easy to live with her, to share with her, to be her friend,” Sills said. “She had gravitas. . . . She was also just so much fun.”