CONCORD, NH (PRESS RELEASE) – James C. Vara, chief of staff and associate attorney general at the New Hampshire Department of Justice, has been named the 2018 recipient of the Caroline and Martin Gross Fellowship. The fellowship was established in memory of the late House Majority Leader Caroline Gross and the late Concord mayor Martin Gross to honor dedication to public service. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awards the fellowship annually.
The fellowship, now in its 23rd year, enables a New Hampshire public servant to attend the three-week Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The fellowship honors an extraordinary elected or appointed official in New Hampshire state or local government who demonstrates leadership ability and the highest standards of performance in public service.
“This fellowship strengthens New Hampshire’s civic leadership and gives exemplary public servants the opportunity to further their learning and refresh their perspectives in a way that ultimately benefits the whole state,” said Charitable Foundation President and CEO Richard Ober.
Vara was nominated for the fellowship by a former Caroline and Martin Gross Fellow – and was surprised to be selected. Frequently, candidates apply more than once before being chosen.
“It is an honor that in no way did I ever think I would get,” Vara said. “To work with people from all different sectors and different states and countries, and to learn how they see problems and how they solve those problems will be amazing.”
The program, he said, allows for “the opportunity, for three weeks, to look at things and think about things from a 30,000-foot view – and then take those tools back and think about how to solve problems in a different way.”
Vara is most well-known for his work as Advisor on Addiction and Behavioral Health to both Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, and Christopher Sununu, a Republican. In that role (often referred to as the state’s “Drug Czar,”) he was responsible for overseeing the state’s response to the opioid epidemic and addiction crisis. (The position was initially created with funding from the Charitable Foundation.)
He left that job when he was promoted to be chief of staff and associate attorney general at the Department of Justice. Vara, of New London, is third in command at DOJ and helps to manage the department.
He is committed to working in the public sector. “The thought of having a job where we are not trying to make a difference in people’s lives would not be as rewarding,” he said. “I didn’t grow up with a family with any money, so that has never been my drive,” he said. “I genuinely like what I do.”
In a letter of recommendation for the fellowship, former attorney general Joseph Foster wrote: “I think it notable that James served not only Governor Hassan, a Democrat, but also Governor Sununu, a Republican; and now serves my successor, Attorney General MacDonald, who also identified his special talents and named James his Chief of Staff. Having individuals in public service who can work effectively with individuals with varying political beliefs seems especially important in these times.”
Caroline L. Gross was a New Hampshire native who devoted her adult life to public service, serving in numerous capacities in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the Governor’s office, and as a state representative from Concord. In 1989, she was appointed House Majority Leader, a position she held until her death in 1993. Her husband, Martin Gross, along with friends, family and colleagues, established a fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to provide permanent funding for the Caroline L. Gross Fellowship. When Martin Gross passed away in 2016, the fellowship was renamed the Caroline and Martin Gross Fellowship. Martin Gross’ wife, Deirdre Sheerr-Gross, made a generous gift to sustain the fellowship.
Previous fellowship recipients include: George Bald, John Beardmore, Gina Belmont, Philip Bryce, Joan Callahan, Christopher Clement, Lou D’Allesandro, Sylvio Dupuis, Orville “Bud” Fitch, David Hess, Jason Hoch, Beverly Hollingworth, Tricia Lucas, Tina Nadeau, Marilee Nihan, Merelise O’Connor, Terence Pfaff, Catherine Provencher, Alan Robichaud, Todd Selig, Kathleen Sgambati, Stephen Shurtleff, Mary Beth Walz and Craig Welch.
About the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is New Hampshire’s statewide community foundation, founded in 1962 by and for the people of New Hampshire. The Foundation manages a growing collection of more than 1,800 funds created by generous individuals, families and businesses, and awards nearly $40 million in grants and scholarships every year. The Foundation works with generous and visionary citizens to maximize the power of their giving, supports great work happening in our communities and leads and collaborates on high-impact initiatives. For more information, please visit www.nhcf.org or call 603-225-6641.