Spotlight COlorado  

Have You Met?

There seems to be a common consensus out there when you mention formidable attorney Ellen Stewart with Spencer Fane LLP.  Experienced and dedicated to her role as an expert navigator for health care organizations, the prompt, precise, reliable, and dependable Stewart is considered one of the best in her field.

In private practice of law now for over 30 years, Ellen’s career started at P/SL Healthcare Corporation.  She is the author of many publications and presentations and specializes in representing hospitals, physician groups, and other health care providers in the “business law” aspect of health care.  Stewart says:  “You have to have a passion for the clients you represent, and I do.”

Ellen serves her health care clients with a vast and seemingly countless amount of legal issues, contract and agreement issues and regulations so they can successful deliver great patient care while still meeting business goals.  She is thought of as the one to go to for transactional counseling in mergers and acquisitions, negotiating contracts or developing corporate compliance programs.   

Ellen and her husband, Don Vancil, are well-traveled throughout the world and have many more trips they want to take.  They will be taking a trip to the Amalfi coast this month.  Ellen and Don are also expert bridge players and hold many bridge games at their lovely home.

Ellen is a role model and mentor to many women and lawyers in general with her vast knowledge in her field and her commitment to ethical practice.  Ellen also feels an obligation to "always do what you can for the less fortunate."  She is a generous, giving and compassionate member of our community and an active volunteer; and you always know where Ellen stands.  

Summed up well by a client: “Ellen Stewart is not only a great example of a woman and a friend, but one heck of an attorney to have on your side!”

Contact Ellen at:  303-592-8310 or    

What words best describe your life right now?  I am happy and fulfilled with a wonderful career as a corporate health care attorney, loving family, supportive friends and the ability to give back to the community.

As an important member of our philanthropic community, how do you think we can keep attracting younger people so they become involved in volunteering and giving? Mentoring and providing encouragement is a wonderful way to get young people involved.  It is also important if, in the workplace, younger employees are given the opportunity to become involved in the community.  As an example, at Spencer Fane we encourage our attorneys to be actively involved in their community.  The firm provides many opportunities for giving back such as the recent dinner we held at Craig Hospital for the patients and their families where members of our Denver office served the meal.  In our St. Louis office we regularly serve lunch to homeless youth at the Epworth Children and Family Services Drop-in Center and in Kansas City firm members volunteer at several arts organizations including the Kansas City Arts Institute, The Heart of American Shakespeare Festival and the Lyric Opera.  The key is to find something you are passionate about and then ask how you can become involved.  The challenge for the charities is to follow-up when they receive offers from someone willing to contribute their time and talents. 

Tell us about the charitable organizations you are (or have been) involved with? For over 30 years I have been involved as a Corporate Board member of Cancer League of Colorado, an all-volunteer organization that raises money for cancer research and support in Colorado. After serving 9 years on the Board of Directors, the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center continues to have our support, as well as the support of my law firm, Spencer Fane, LLP. We love this professional theater.  Currently I also serve on the Board of Directors for the AJ Kauvar Foundation which provides grants for the development of new ideas in the area of public health.  Donald and I also support National Jewish Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Volunteers of America, Denver Health, Metro Caring, Excelsior, Rocky Mountain MS Center, Friends of Nursing, Central City Opera, and Chanda Plan Foundation to name a few.

As one of the most astute attorneys in Colorado, what laws do you think need changing? Change is a slow process and sometimes even with the best intentions we, as a country, a state and on a local level, do not always get it “right”.  The key is to recognize when the status quo is not working, and then obtain input from affected stakeholders and experts in the field to come up with thoughtful ways to make a change. Clearly we have some significant work to do in the areas of healthcare, education, the environment, fiscal policy and defense.

Is there a non-profit event you really look forward to attending each year? Without out a doubt it is the National Jewish Health Beaux Arts Ball.  Thanks to the support of Spencer Fane, LLP we are able to make a significant contribution to this internationally renowned teaching, research and patient care organization, and the CEO, Dr. Michael Salem and his team hold an amazing event every year.  Second on the list is the Hope Ball which supports Cancer League of Colorado.  It is phenomenal what the group of volunteers are able to do and the amount of community support received each year.

What is your fondest childhood memory?  Several years prior to our family’s move to Colorado for my Dad to become a professor at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine, we traveled “from sea to shining sea” by car - Mom, Dad, and 3 kids in a Ford Falcon station wagon, without air conditioning, in the summer, visiting National Parks along the way, traveling the northern route on the way to California and the southern route on the way back.  We saw the incredible beauty of the United States and the trip was one of the reasons Donald and I visit Yellowstone National Park every year – it reminds us of the wonders of nature.

What is your idea of a perfect vacation?  Any vacation where we can explore the history of the country and get to know its people and customs is just perfect.

What are your favorite restaurants in Denver?  Which one do you consistently choose for a special occasion? This is a tough question as there are so many terrific restaurants in Denver and the surrounding area. 

What do you do to attain balance in life?  Cooking and baking are my balance. We love to entertain at home and cooking for a large group is very relaxing.  I love the planning and preparations as well as having friends enjoy the fruits of my labor. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far? Professionally it is providing legal services to hospitals, physicians and other healthcare organizations as well as speaking nationally at educational meetings. Personally, it is giving back to the community.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?  From my mother – “always do what you can for the people around you and especially for those that are less fortunate”.

I ask most of my married folks this – “What do you think is the secret to wedded bliss?” The ability to compromise on the little things and to explain your position rationally on the big issues, and then to agree to disagree.

What are your favorite “words of wisdom” or "words to live by?" “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” – Winston Churchill.

What are some of your other hobbies or interests?  English history and literature, movies, the theater, music and visiting with friends and family.

Describe a typical weekend for Ellen Stewart? During the winter and spring this year most weekends were dedicated to preparing for teaching the Health Law class at the University of Denver College of Law.  In addition to client work, now that the semester is over, we have been busy with graduations, wedding anniversary parties and hosting guests in our home.  This summer we will be traveling, with English friends we met through a healthcare organization, to Italy.  Once the fall begins, in addition to work, we hope to be able to attend at least one charity event each weekend.

How do we make Health Care right in this country?  Seems like there are different needs for different people…. The issues regarding the US healthcare system are complex. There are many competing interests such as providing healthcare for those that cannot afford to pay, educating people on preventative measures, attracting and training qualified individuals to work in health care, funding research to save and improve lives, and ensuring that the physical facilities and equipment are not obsolete, to name a few.  The struggle is balancing these needs based upon what we, as a country, are willing to pay for our health care versus other national priorities.  These are value judgments.

There is a big gap in this country between the wealthy and those living in poverty; what do you think can be done for those who don’t see much hope for the future? Finding ways to provide education to those living in poverty.  Education has always played an important role in the health of a person – physically, emotionally and spiritually. We need to find ways to provide education at all levels of our society.  When you are educated you have the tools that enable you to solve problems for yourself, your family and your community.

What do you picture yourself doing 10 years from now? I hope to continue to work in supporting health care organizations either as an attorney in private practice or in another role.  And of course, giving back.

What are some gifts your parents gave you that money can’t buy? Love, respect and the importance of giving back to the community.  Finding your passion in life and then working hard.

Is there anything you wish you'd done differently so far?  I found my passion and my parents provided me with the tools to make it a reality through education. I am not a person who tends to look back on my life, but rather forward. I hope that I can continue to make a difference to clients, friends, and the community.

What would you like your legacy to be? / What would you most like to be remembered for?   I hope people will remember me as a good health care attorney, wife, friend and community leader.