Biographies and Photos of Series Participants
Biography of Mae Nan Ellingson


Biography of Mae Nan Ellingson



Mae Nan (Robinson) Ellingson was born Mae Nan Windham in Mineral Wells, TX and graduated from Mineral Wells High School in 1965 and Weatherford College in Weatherford, TX in 1967. Mae Nan was the youngest delegate at the 1972 Convention from Missoula. She moved to Missoula in 1967 and received her BA in Political Science with Honors from the University of MT in 1970. She was a young widow known by her late husband’s surname of Robinson while attending UM graduate school under the tutelage of noted Professor Ellis Waldron when he persuaded her to run for the Constitutional Convention. Coming in a surprising second in the delegate competition in Missoula County she was named one of the Convention’s “Ten Outstanding Constitutional Convention Delegates,” an impressive feat at such a young age. She was 24 at the time, the youngest person to serve at the ConCon, and one of 19 women out of 100 delegates.

In the decade before the Convention, there were never more than three women Legislators in any session, usually one or two. She was a member of the American Association of University Women, a Pi Sigma Alpha political science honorary, and a Phi Alpha Theta historical honorary. At the Convention, she led proposals for the state's bill of rights, particularly related to equal rights for women. For years, Ellingson kept a copy of the preamble to the Constitution hanging in her office; while all the delegates had a chance to vote on the wording, she and delegate Bob Campbell are credited with the language in the preamble.

During the convention, she had an opportunity that opened the door to her later career as an attorney. A convention delegate suggested to her that she should go to law school. Several offered to help, but at the time she couldn't go to school. Her mom had died in Texas, and she ended up with a younger brother and sister to raise in Missoula. She got a job teaching, but about a year later, intrigued with the idea of pursuing the law as a career, she called the man back to ask about the offer. Eventually another delegate, Dave Drum of Billings, sponsored her tuition at the UM School of Law.

After receiving her JD with Honors (including the Law Review and Moot Court) from the UM Law School Ellingson worked for the Missoula city attorney's office for six years (1977-83), and she took on landmark projects. During her tenure, Missoula became the first city to issue open space bonds, a project that introduced her to Dorsey & Whitney. The city secured its first easement on Mount Sentinel, and it created the trail along the riverfront with a mix of playing fields and natural vegetation. She also helped develop a sign ordinance for the city of Missoula. She ended up working as bond counsel for Dorsey & Whitney, and she opened up the firm's full-fledged Missoula office after commuting a couple of years to its Great Falls office. She was a partner at Dorsey Whitney, working there from 1983 until her retirement in 2012. The area of law she practiced there is a narrow specialty - it requires knowledge of constitutional law, state and local government law, and a slice of federal tax law - but for Ellingson it meant working on great public projects – schools, sewer systems, libraries, swimming pools, ire trucks. At the state level, she helped form the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority, a pooled insurance group for cities. She's shaped MT’s tax increment law, and she was a fixture in the MT Legislature when they were debating equal rights. As a bond lawyer, though, Ellingson considers her most important work for the state to be setting up the Intercap Program that allowed local governments to borrow money from the state at a low interest rate.

She has been a frequent speaker at the League of Cities and Towns, the Montana Association of Counties, and the Rural Water Users Association workshops on topics related to municipal finance, as well as workshops sponsored by the DNRC, the Water and Sewer Agencies Coordination Team, and the Montana State University Local Government Center. In 2002, she received an outstanding service award from the Montana Rural Water Users Association. In addition to being considered an expert on Montana state and constitutional law, local government law and local government finance, she is a frequent teacher at the National Association of Bond Lawyers (NABL) Fundamentals of Municipal Bond Law Seminar and the NABL Bond Attorney’s Workshop.

For over 30 years Mae Nan has participated in the drafting of legislation in Montana for state and local finance matters. She has served on the Board of Directors of NABL, as Chairman of its Education Committee, was elected as an initial fellow in 1995 to the American College of Bond Counsel, and was recognized as a Super Lawyer in the Rocky Mountain West. Mae Nan was admitted to practice before the MT and US Supreme Courts, was named one of “America’s Leading Business Lawyers” by Chambers USA (Rank 1), a Mountain States Super Lawyer in 2007 and is listed in Best Lawyers in America; she is a member and former Board Member of NABL, a Fellow of the American College of Bond Counsel and a member of the Board of Visitors of the UM Law School. Mae Nan is also a philanthropist who serves on boards and applies her intelligence to many organizations, such as the Missoula Art Museum. [Much of this biography was drawn from a retirement story in the Missoulian and the Dorsey Whitney web site.]

Publication Date

Winter 2016

Biography of Mae Nan Ellingson