Sara Champion: Interpreter, lawyer, genealogist

Ridgefield resident Sara Stewart Champion has the correct last name. She has been a champion in three very different fields of expertise during her lifetime.

First she was a Russian interpreter for homeland security.

Next Champion became a corporate lawyer for CEOs and their benefit packages.  

Finally, Champion became an expert in the field of history and genealogy with a focus on the earliest years of our country.   

Until recently, Champion lived in New York City and visited her mother in Ridgefield on weekends and special occasions. Her mother, who lived in the carriage house of the corner house on Branchville Road and Main Street for many years, willed the house to her daughter.

The home is a beautiful, historic building dating back to 1896, and Champion holds many meetings there for various historical groups for which she holds numerous leadership roles.

As a young girl, Champion had a strong interest in Sputnik and the space program.   

This interest took her to Duke University for her bachelor’s degree and then to the University of California, where she got her master’s.

At Duke, Champion majored in Russian and became an authority on the culture and the language. With this linguistics specialty, Champion was hired as a Russian linguist at the National Security Agency. She also worked for the Defense Language Institute and the Social Security Administration.   

Through her work with these agencies, Champion became involved in important espionage dealings, including translating and detecting special information on tapes involving the Bay of Pigs.   

Then, by chance, Champion met another runner at the New York City Marathon in 1987. They got talking about her career and this man convinced her to come manage his law office, Bachelder Law.   

“It was not long before my boss said that he wanted me to get a law degree so that I could eventually become a partner in the firm,” Champion said.

Champion took on the challenge and got her law degree in executive compensation from New York Law School. She then worked for Bachelder Law as well as Vedder Price for many years. It was a very specialized field and one is which she excelled.  

After successfully putting together compensation packages for many well-known CEOs, Champion made a name for herself in the industry. For five years in a row, 2007 to 2011, Champion was named a Super Lawyer and Rising Star in the Metropolitan Educational Law Journal.   

Loving her corporate job, but not loving the long hours and pressures, Champion decided it was time to move out of the city and into the home her mother loved so dearly.   

It would be the perfect place for her to store her historical papers and to work on her numerous genealogical projects.  

For the last few years, Champion has taken her expertise as a linguist and a lawyer and used them to help historical organizations and individuals locate documentation that will help with heritage-based research.    

“With my legal background I am able to get into special sections of various libraries to supplement my Internet research. It is very exciting to make a breakthrough in a search.”

In addition to being on the board of directors for Keeler Tavern and the Ridgefield Historical Society, Champion was the founding director and is the current secretary and registrar for the Society of the First Families of New York.

“I had four relatives come to this country on the Mayflower. They were a father and a daughter and a father and a son.

To be a Daughter of the American Revolution you don’t have to have a relative that came over on the Mayflower. You do, however, need to have a relative that fought for the colonists in the Revolutionary War or helped their cause in some way.”  

Along with being part of the First Families Movement, Champion has also been a board member for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and a regent for the Drum Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Since Champion has taken over the role as regent for the DAR, membership has grown from two or three families yearly to more than 20.

“When I provide the documentation for a DAR member, I like to include not only the mother but her daughters as well so that the legacy continues.”  

As part of the Drum Hill Chapter of DAR, Champion spearheaded the updating of local historical markers to make certain they were accurate, and also took on the revitalization of the Comstock Burying Ground in Wilton.

“I was very fortunate to have the Boy Scout troop from Jesse Lee Church to help me with the cemetery cleanup. Now I am working on a matching grant to get the key tombstones repaired. With the re-enactment of the Battle of Ridgefield on April 29, 2017, we are hoping to have the work done by that time.”

In 2014, Champion worked with Toni McKeen as co-chairperson of the November Genealogy Fair in Ridgefield. McKeen specializes in Italian immigrants and Champion likes to work with first families in the earliest years of our country. Ridgefield is fortunate to have two such women in town to help with various types of genealogical searches. Their passion for their work is contagious. There is no retirement for Champion as she continues to work closely with the New England Historical Genealogy Society, the Henry Bond Heritage Society, the three historical societies in our area, and the DAR, First Family, and Mayflower organizations.

Champion is a unique historical resource in our area and one who is open to helping others find their historical place in society.  

You really never get to know yourself if you don’t know your family history.  It is never too late to start.