DANBURY -- Dianne Andersen, the first woman to practice law in the city, was remembered by her friends and colleagues Friday as a brilliant attorney who did everything she could for her clients.
Andersen, 79, who died suddenly this week, first practiced law in Danbury when she and her ex-husband, Rick Ventura, founded a downtown law firm in the late 1950s.
"Dianne Andersen was a pre-eminent attorney with very high ethical standards," said Danbury Probate Judge Dianne Yamin.
"She was a trailblazer for women and the first woman to practice law at a time when the field was dominated by men. She was a role model for all who followed."
Andersen specialized in family law.
"To her the interests of the client was always uppermost," said Rick Ventura, her ex-husband. "No one client was more important than the next. She was considered one of the top five divorce attorneys in the state."
One of her more famous clients was Helle Crafts, a Newtown woman who was killed in 1986 by her husband, Richard Crafts, in a case that became known as "the woodchipper murder."
Helle Crafts had gone to Andersen to initiate divorce proceedings against her husband. When Crafts disappeared, it was Andersen who went to the authorities asking them to investigate.
"She came to my office and indicated her concerns," said Walter Flanagan, a prosecutor at Danbury Superior Court at the time. "She impressed upon us that Helle didn't run away, that something horrendous had happened to her."
Jean Ferlazzo, Andersen's law partner for more than two decades before Andersen retired about nine years ago, said Helle told Andersen at the time, "If something happens to me, it's my husband."
Ferlazzo said some lawyers may have viewed Andersen as aggressive -- she was nicknamed "the barracuda" -- but "she was an extremely competent" lawyer.
"She always made sure that family members were taken care of to the best of her ability," Ferlazzo said.
She said family was always very important to Andersen. "She loved being a grandmother, and she was very dedicated to her children."
Ferlazzo added that Andersen founded the Special Masters program in Danbury, a program in which attorneys volunteer to help settle divorces cases short of trial.
It became one of the most successful programs of its kind in the state.
"She was someone the judiciary would look to as a resource in a complicated case," Ferlazzo said. "We need to value people like her."