Brian Michael Olmstead

Brian Michael Olmstead, 78, entered into rest on May 10, 2018. A Man for All Seasons, Brian devoted his life to helping the disadvantaged when no one else would. A lifelong legal services attorney, Brian never stopped fighting for justice on behalf of the poor, the despised, and the lost.

Brian graduated from Cornell Law School in 1964, 4th in his class. While there, rather than accept an invitation to join the Cornell Law Review, Brian opted to work in the legal aid clinic. Following graduation, Brian accepted a position with the U.S Civil Rights Commission, which included traveling to Mississippi as part of Robert Kennedy’s voting rights initiative. In 1965, Brian began working in Washington, DC for Neighborhood Legal Services, until 1967, when he went to Des Moines, Iowa, and joined Iowa’s Neighborhood Legal Services Office.

Brian moved to Nahant, Massachusetts in 1968, where he lived out the rest of his life. Brian became a senior mentor, teacher, and friend to the attorneys who worked for the Boston Legal Assistance Project and Greater Boston Legal Services, where he devoted his practice to representing poor tenants. Brian subsequently founded and administered the first legal services clinical program at New England School of Law, Boston, MA.

Even after he became ill in January 2018, Brian’s passion for justice and his humanity, compassion and empathy for all living creatures never waned. Brian enjoyed feeding the wild birds, as well as providing for even the lowliest of raccoons, opossum, and skunks. Brian believed with all his heart that All God’s Creature Have a Place in the Choir. Brian left us peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones. Brian is survived by his partner and spouse of 40 years, Carol Wasserman; his son, Conor Olmstead, his son-in law, Adam Sell; his sisters, Thea and Lenore Olmstead; his brother, Terence Olmstead; his nephews and nieces, Liam Galbreth, Colleen Tilford, and Caitlin Fleck; his great-nephews and nieces, Joshua Fleck, Kieran and Julian Tilford, Mateo, Tomas, Maya, and Dylan Galbreth; his dogs, Skye and Peggy-O, and his cats, Jude, Blue, and Moonshadow.

Brian was always complex and sometimes confrontational. Brian was also always loving, empathetic, and fiercely devoted to his family and his friends. He took pride in having trod the “awkward way” faithfully, ethically, and with great love for all who were privileged to know him, all the days of his life.

Brian’s family will host a private memorial service in the grand tradition of an Irish wake on June 24, 2018 at The Black Rose, 160 State Street, Boston, MA 02109. Details to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Brian’s name to the Animal Legal Defense Fund,


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15 Condolences

  1. Jay Svenson on May 25, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Brian was a great man, a dear friend to my brother Peter and me.
    He will be greatly missed!

  2. david ludlow on May 26, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    Hey Brian!

    Thanks for being my mentor and friend when I felt despised and lost when fired by United south end settlements as an organizer trying to stop corning corporation’s gentrification of 52 buildings in the south end of Boston. We were so proud when you won the first retaliatory eviction test case in the nation related to this 1968 just after moving into your Nahant house. I’ll never forget singing to the barnacles in your front yard at low tide, after you took me in to recover from the nervous breakdown that resulted.

    Can’t make it to your send-off at the Black Rose, as I’m still slugging it out with the masters of inequality and warfare and will be at the poor people’s campaign in Washington, DC that weekend, but I’ll see you soon!


  3. Richard Jacobs on May 28, 2018 at 4:03 pm


    You changed my life and made it possible for me to realize my dreams. I will remember and miss you as long as I live.

  4. Lucien Wulsin on May 29, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    I worked with Brian in Roxbury and East Boston. He gave me two lessons I’ll always treasure. First give every fiber of your being representing your clients. Second learn, find and trust your own voice. Thank you Brian for all you did.

  5. Harvey Shapiro on May 30, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    A giant in persuasion and inspiration in my early legal services days!

  6. Glenna Wyman on June 1, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    As a secretary in the Greater Boston Elderly Legal Services unit in the late 70’s, when the staff union was fighting for our first union contract and the attorneys were organizing, I remember Brian telling engrossing and funny stories about his travails at the many union fundraiser parties. He was one of a kind and treated everyone as his equal. I’m grateful that our paths crossed.

  7. Steven Boyer on June 1, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    I don’t think I’ve met too many people who impressed me as much as Brian did. What a brilliant mind, as well as kind, considerate, thoughtful and generous. We have lost someone very special. Brian, I will miss you and will always remember our many spirited conversations.

  8. Mark Stern on June 5, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    His passing is a great loss. He was my mentor for several years and an inspiration for all time thereafter. I will speak about that experience and my love for him at the event on the 24th, then, if possible, post what I had to say.

  9. Jeffrey Winik on June 5, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Brian was a great mentor to a generation of young legal services attorneys, myself included, who came of age in the seventies. Brian was always willing to buy a round and entertain the assembled with great stories, some of which I even believed. He will be missed. He has earned a place of respect in the pantheon of great public service lawyers.

  10. Joan Wasserman on June 6, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    Brian was a devoted and loving father, husband, and son-in-law. He will be greatly missed but always loved.

  11. Terence olmstead on July 5, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Brian layer,animal lover, was also a ,supporting,empithatiic,and loving brother he will be missed so much. Only brother. Terence

  12. Florence Wagman Roisman on September 27, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    I’m about to teach the decision in Edwards v. Habib, one of many cases created out of Brian’s fertile, brilliant brain. The doctrine of retaliatory eviction was essentially created by Brian, with whom I had the good fortune to work at NLSP in DC in the late 1960s. I never knew Brian to rest during his life; he fought injustice always.

  13. Howard w. Carleton, jr. on July 10, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    My deepest sympathy for Brian’s family. He was a great man for the short time I had known him. Long enough to consider him my friend !

  14. Dory Green on March 9, 2021 at 1:22 am

    This is a bit late, but I’ve been away from Boston for almost half a century. I met Brian at a bar (typical) the night I returned from out of state at the unexpected funeral of a favorite uncle and was feeling really low. I was then in my second year of law school in Boston. There was really no one quite like Brian: absolutely committed to clients, to poverty law, (to ale). His amiable mien never wavered, and he taught me a lot about compassion and the creative practice of law. I only saw the Nahant house once, but it remained a beacon of Brian’s uniqueness. He is one of the most unforgettable people I have ever met. A lawyer who really cared about his clients.

  15. Jonathan Arthur Weiss on April 13, 2023 at 9:49 pm

    Goodbye a great man and colleague

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