Volume XVIII | Issue 2 | Spring 2018
Business owner, author and Ford Opportunity Scholar Judy Cornish

Career follows a roundabout path

Difficulties and detours help Scholar define her own road to success

Judy Cornish was a divorced mother of three children and an immigrant from Canada when a friend talked her into registering for community college in Coos Bay. 

“I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship where I was told how stupid I was for 16 years,” she remembers now, some 23 years after that turbulent time. “And I was convinced I was going to flunk out.”

She quickly found out that wasn’t true. After receiving her associate degree from Southwestern Oregon Community College, she moved to La Grande. There, she became a Ford Opportunity Scholar and enrolled in Eastern Oregon University. She finished her language degree in June of 1999 with a 4.0 grade point average, winning four major awards.

With that, Cornish embarked on a career journey that wasn’t exactly straight, but the bumps in the road all contributed to her current success and fulfillment.

After graduation, she received offers from more than 30 law schools, based on her high LSAT scores, as well as a scholarship offer from the Monterrey Institute of International Studies. Unwilling to uproot her son as he was entering high school, she decided to work in La Grande as a psycho-social skills trainer for the mentally ill. 

After a year, though, she faced a use-it-or-lose-it situation with her scholarship, and in a lightning fast decision, she decided to enroll at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. 

Two weeks later, she was sitting in class. “It was really difficult,” Cornish says. “For the first year at least, I felt so out of place — a 40-year-old single mom whose previous education had given her little if any preparation for the study of American law.”

Law degree

She persevered and graduated from Lewis & Clark in June of 2003, embarking on a law career that included two years as a clerk at the Oregon Tax Court and the Oregon Supreme Court and then a stint at a respected divorce firm in Portland, and finally a couple of years in her own practice.

In the end, law proved not to be a good fit for Cornish. “I had eight years in and I tried to make it work, but it wasn’t a good personality fit,” she says. “It was really uncomfortable for me to work with people whose issues had progressed to the point of needing defense, rather than earlier when crafting creative solutions was possible. By nature, I’m more of a coach than an advocate.”

At the end of 2008, she closed all her cases, wrapped up her practice, sold her condo in Portland and moved to Moscow, Idaho, where she felt an affinity with the mountains and the weather.

It wasn’t long before her offer to look after a neighbor’s elderly parent turned into a rewarding and groundbreaking career, one that owes some thanks to her experience in law school.

Today, Cornish owns an in-home care business serving people with compromised cognitive ability, Palouse Dementia Care. She also is the founder of Dementia & Alzheimer’s Wellbeing Network (DAWN), a pioneering method of caring for people with dementia. The DAWN Method targets the emotional distress that accompanies cognitive decline so that behaviors are avoided and caregiver stress is minimized. 

Cornish says she has her law school experience to thank for that. “The DAWN method came from my experience of going into law school so abruptly, where my intuitive thinking skills were of no value,” she says. “Law is so focused on the use of rational thought. If I hadn’t gone through such an abrupt change, I would not have recognized what I was seeing all my clients go through. They were experiencing the opposite: losing their rational thinking skills and being forced to function with only their intuitive thinking skills.”

The Dementia Handbook

A book by Judy Cornish

Cornish’s proprietary DAWN Method has resonated with caregivers, who laud it for helping improve clients’ quality of life and ability to remain in familiar surroundings. Her 2017 book, The Dementia Handbook: How to Provide Dementia Care at Home, is one of Amazon’s top-selling books on the subject and she recently delivered a TEDx Talk in Spokane on the subject. 

The road to success hasn’t been easy or direct for Cornish, but she says that’s okay. “Life is convoluted,” she says. “And I don’t think we should expect it to be easy or work out the way we wanted it to. We should expect difficulties and detours, and just keep on carrying on.”  

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