Honoring lifelong volunteers for service
Since 1998, Montgomery County, Maryland, has bestowed the Neal Potter Path of Achievement Award on selected older adults, honored for their lifelong commitment to volunteer work. The awards, named after former County Executive Neal Potter, are co-sponsored by the Montgomery County Commission on Aging and the Beacon Newspapers.
This year’s winners are Judge Chung K. Pak and Charlotte Holliday. They will receive their awards at a public ceremony on June 15.
Judge gives back
When Chung Pak was 12 years old, he and his family immigrated from Korea to a small town in Alabama, where they encountered both generosity and hostility. “I faced discrimination and name-calling as a kid,” Pak, now 64, recalled in an interview with the Beacon.
His childhood experiences motivated Pak to fight for social justice, and over the past 30 years he has advocated on behalf of immigrants and others who face discrimination.
“I felt that it was important for our country and our community to be much more inclusive,” he said.
Maryland Senator Susan Lee, who nominated Pak for the award, called him an “unsung hero,” describing a long record of advocacy.
“He has worked tirelessly to provide a strong voice to some of the most needy and powerless; combat justice and inequality; advocate for legislation to fight hate crimes and inequity and empower immigrants, women, children, families and all hardworking individuals; form coalitions, build bridges and obtain consensus between our richly diverse communities; and educate, register new voters and get them to the polls,” Lee wrote.
During Pak’s career, he worked as a corporate attorney and a patents attorney and, for more than 23 years, as administrative patent judge of the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
In 2020, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan appointed Pak chief administrative law judge of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings.
In his new position, Pak has appointed seven administrative law judges, five of whom are women. Among his appointees are the first female Muslim administrative law judge and the first Asian American administrative law judge in Maryland.
“They were selected for their ability, but they happened to be women of color,” Pak said. “We continue to promote diversity and bring about the best talent from throughout the state.”
Pak’s involvement in activism began shortly after he moved to Maryland in 1982. He connected with the Montgomery County Chapter of the NAACP and eventually became co-chair of its Multicultural Partnership Committee, which consists of nearly 30 ethnic organizations.
Through that work and as a member of the Montgomery County NAACP Police Monitoring Committee, Pak has helped organizations work together to fight injustice.
“Through that unity and through that working relationship, I was hoping to make our community and our country and state better,” he said.
In addition to working with the NAACP, Pak has led the League of Korean Americans and developed partnerships between the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and Montgomery County’s State’s Attorney’s Office and Law Enforcement.
He has served on many boards, including the Maryland Higher Education Commission, the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, and Montgomery County Executive’s Asian American Advisory Board.
Pak has also helped Asian American organizations secure grant funding, so that they can help underserved immigrant populations register to vote and receive job training.
Fighting injustice through legislation, Pak has worked closely with Lee and other state senators by helping pass bills to provide housing for low-income seniors and supporting the passage of the Maryland Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. Pak has fought against anti-immigrant legislation to protect the civil rights of immigrants.
In addition to supporting immigrant populations, Pak has improved the lives of Maryland youth by creating an internship program that provides thousands of high school students with experience working in politics.
Pak also served as a member of the Montgomery County Public School Superintendent’s taskforce to reduce racial tensions at John F. Kennedy High School.
Through his work, Pak wants to repay the many people who have supported him throughout his life and career.
“There are a lot of individuals who made sacrifices so a person like myself was able to get a job as an administrative patent judge and be appointed as a chief administrative law judge,” Pak said.
“I am immensely grateful for those who gave me the opportunities, so I try to do what I can to make a difference for the benefit of this country and this community.”
Music unites, heals
When Charlotte Tacy Holliday was a child in Michigan, she loved playing piano, but her parents struggled to pay for lessons.
“Some people really helped me out,” said Holliday, now 74 and a resident of Germantown, Maryland. Neighbors, teachers and friends wrote recommendations and found free lessons for Holliday, who went on to receive a master’s degree in music and establish a piano school in Germantown.
Holliday spends most of her days thinking about how to help others through music. She started a foundation, the Tacy Foundation, more than a decade ago; the group provides free recordings and concerts to cancer patients, senior centers and wounded warriors.
The idea for the foundation began in 2007, when Holliday accompanied a friend with breast cancer to an appointment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. There Holliday met the director of the Avon Foundation, which donates millions to breast cancer research and treatment.
“I’d like to do something for my friend,” Holliday told her. “I’d love to have my little students record music. Music is such a great medicine.”
The foundation encouraged Holliday to produce a CD to add to the gift bags they distribute to cancer patients. When Holliday asked her students if they wanted to record their favorite piano pieces, the response was enthusiastic. In one weekend, 108 recordings were captured in a nearby home studio.
“The tiniest ones played ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ and the older ones played Bach,” Holliday said. “Kids drove up in their soccer clothes and recorded their pieces and then went to their games.”
After the three-volume CD titled “Sounds of Hope & Healing” was produced, Holliday’s students traveled to the Kimmel Cancer Center to give a live performance.
“I’d never done anything like this before,” Holliday said. She was inspired to continue the work when parents asked, “When can we do this again?”
In 2010, Holliday started a foundation with seed money from her daughter, who said, “Mom, you’ve always wanted to do something like this. Let’s go for it.”
Then, Holliday said, “We were off and running.”
The following year, the Tacy Foundation produced CDs to distribute to children’s hospitals. The year after that, they gave away music CDs to wounded warriors. (Nowadays they give away music on USB drives instead.)
Mostly, though, students give free concerts at places like Walter Reed, the National Institutes of Health, Holy Cross Hospital, and retirement communities such as The Seneca.
“The seniors love them. It was as if they were playing for their grandparents. They know that whatever they played, they would be adored.”
Holliday said she’s delighted to see that music can unite generations and soothe people. Recently, a woman from Alaska called to ask for a new CD. “She said they listen to theirs every night, so it’s worn out — can you make another one? So we did.”
Holliday’s music school also teaches piano and guitar to kids in several local Title I elementary schools through two programs: Piano Pals and Guitar Pals.
Holliday is grateful to the people who helped her when she was growing up. Now she’s paying it forward to “help kids get their footing,” she said.
“The [Neal Potter] award doesn’t go to me; it goes to all the children who have the courage to play. They’re the ones who deserve the award.”
The Montgomery Serves Awards will be presented on June 15 at the Silver Spring Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland. To register to attend, visit montgomerycountymd.gov/volunteercenter/awards.