Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Cressida A. Dixon
March 1, 2021
No day like today.
That’s been a personal mantra of sorts for Cressida Dixon since the day 13 years ago she feared might be her last.
Life back then seemed to hum along a preordained track. The young wife, mother of two small boys and hard-charging attorney had scarcely taken a breather since law school. Just a few years out of Syracuse University College of Law, she already had made partner at one of Rochester’s largest law firms and frequently jetted off to Manhattan to meet with clients. She seldom slept and often missed tucking in 5-year-old Garrett and 1-year-old Bryce.
But the career track kept purring along, right on schedule.
Then came the day she slurred her words and got completely lost in familiar downtown Rochester – damage wrought by six mini-strokes, she would later learn. The next morning she collapsed during her daily workout, her left side paralyzed by a clot that had lodged in the right side of her brain. She texted her sister, who luckily had just watched Oprah Winfrey interview a neurologist on television and recognized the signs.
Cressida had had a stroke. She was 38.
“I remember thinking, “If I die right now, nobody’s coming to my funeral,” Cressida said. “I’ve got to rebalance and reconsider how to spend my time.”
Three months after the stroke, doctors operated to close a hole in Cressida’s heart and accidentally nicked her femoral artery. She flatlined on the table before doctors resuscitated her. When she awoke, she looked into her father’s eyes and said, “I promise. I’m going to change.”
Part of that change came in 2010, when she decided to make a fresh start professionally by joining Bond’s Rochester office as a trust and estate attorney. The firm’s emphasis on work-life balance suited Cressida, who thrived. She has served as the office’s deputy managing member since 2017.
In January, she became the first woman attorney to be appointed as Monroe County public administrator. Her son told her he was proud she was blazing the trail for his female friends.
As public administrator, she handles the estates of deceased residents with no known or available relatives. Cressida said the honor, like her health scare, helps to put things into perspective.
“The public administrator responsibility is sort of the antithesis of my normal practice of assisting people with high net worth put their affairs in order,” she said. “It’s an honor, and it’s humbling, to be entrusted to lead this delicate and important service.”
Despite the new responsibility, her commitment to striking a healthy work-home balance continues.
“I try to manage my job better, be more efficient and organized,” she said. “And I try to leave the office early enough to spend time with the kids and then log back on at night. I try to be more flexible. I used to miss them going to bed when they were little. I don’t miss those moments anymore.”
She loves to exercise – running, cycling, high-intensity interval training, kickboxing – and even ran her first marathon.
“That’s my stress relief,” she said. “People used to think I worked at the Y because they saw me there so much.”
She closes her office door less often at work. She gives talks about her experience on behalf of the American Heart Association and the importance of knowing the warning signs of a stroke, like her sister did (“She knew I had a three-hour window to receive a life-saving injection,” Cressida said. “I was 100% paralyzed. And within 20 minutes of that injection my mobility started to return.”)
Cressida also continually drums into her sons the importance of embracing each moment.
“I teach my boys, ‘There’s nothing you can’t do – except redo a day.”
“You’ll never have Feb. 3, 2021, again,” she said. “So make it the best. Keep it in perspective. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”