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The Poetry of History: Remembering Our Colleagues at the HCBA Bar Memorial

Posted By HCBA President Thaddeus R. Lightfoot, Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May it Please the Court:

We gather here this morning to honor 45 of our colleagues who passed last year. The Fourth District Court and the Hennepin County Bar Association have joined in this annual honor for more than 110 years. In gathering to remember our colleagues, we recognize the process of life and death, or what the British historian G. M. Trevelyan called “the quasi-miraculous poetry of history.” The poetry of history, he wrote, was that once, on “this familiar spot of ground,” walked other real men and women as alive as we are today. Now they are gone, “one generation vanishing into another.”

But as we gather this morning, we know that one generation does not simply vanish into another. One generation lays the foundation for another. The men and women we remember this morning we exemplary. They were outstanding lawyers, judges, community leaders, and mentors, of course. But they were also outstanding family members and friends. And by their example, they built the foundation for the next generation of lawyers, judges, community leaders and mentors.  

Without exception, they were trailblazers. One lawyer, before she helped change the course of Minnesota law, was rejected in 21 job interviews, but was hired on her 22nd interview by the Dorsey firm. When she was hired in 1967 she joined 76 male lawyers. Five years later, she made partner, the first woman to do so at a major Twin Cities law firm. Early on, at annual attorney dinners, she had to enter the Minneapolis Club through the rear door because women were not allowed through the front.

We honor more trailblazers. One was a prominent civil rights attorney who was one of the foremost experts on Indian treaty law.

Another was a pioneering attorney with the ACLU and the NAACP who led Dartmouth to an Ivy League championship in hockey.

Another served in Vietnam as a naval officer and became an early member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Still another was one of the pillars of his firm’s national restaurant practice who stressed that collective success overrides self-interest.

And another was a municipal bond attorney whose client, the City of Fargo, declared a day in his honor in October 2017 in recognition of his work.

A second constant among the lawyers we remember today is service, especially public service, military service, and service to the community.

There is no better example of public service than that provided by the half-dozen judges and judicial officers whom we honor. One was a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice who served for 10 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, was the youngest chair of the House Judiciary Committee in Minnesota history, and was a founding member of the DFL club that supported Hubert Humphrey in his first run for mayor of Minneapolis.

Another was a federal administrative law judge in New York and Florida after serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, the youngest U.S. Attorney in American history at the time he was appointed.

Still another was a Marine pilot who flew for Northwest Airlines during law school before serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. He ultimately served two separate stints as a Hennepin County district court judge.

Another was a state high school debate champion before serving as a Hennepin County administrative law judge, and ended his career as a public defender.

Yet another Hennepin County administrative law judge, before ascending to the bench, served as the long-time chief of the civil division in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. He used to begin his meetings by declaring to his attorneys, “We’re doing a whale of a job for the county!”

And the final judicial officer we remember worked for decades as a mediator and arbitrator before serving as a conciliation court referee. He was the subject of an article in the Minneapolis Tribune, which described conciliation court as more akin to The People’s Court than to Perry Mason.

But it was not just judges and judicial officers who were devoted to public service. The call to public service permeates the careers of the lawyers we remember today.

Perhaps the best example was a proud Navy veteran who came of age as DFL party chair in the turbulent late 1960s, served three terms as Minnesota’s attorney general, and was a DFL-endorsed candidate for Governor. As attorney general, he trained a generation of Minnesota lawyers, was known to hire on merit rather than on political connections, and was an early leader in increasing gender balance and diversity in our profession.

Another, after serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, returned to edit his family newspaper and went on to become managing partner of Faegre and Benson, now Faegre Baker Daniels.

Another was the former president of USA Hockey and a primary founder of the Minnesota North Stars, who also led the initiative that made women’s ice hockey a medal sport in the Olympic Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. The U.S. women won the first Olympic hockey gold.

Still another was a former Hopkins city attorney, a member of nearly every Hopkins city commission, a city council member, and a three-term mayor who was the driving force behind the projects that led to the revitalization of the city’s downtown.

Another had a distinguished career as a securities lawyer, but also travelled to Spain to found a telephone business. He also founded the Giant Urban Pumpkin Growers of America, and hosted its annual weigh-off competition. I guess Charles Schultz, another Minnesotan, was right. There really is a Great Pumpkin.

Another was public defender in Duluth before entering private practice, where he specialized in consumer law.

Yet another served as attorney for dozens of civic groups, including the Richfield Knights of Columbus and Richfield American Legion.

One remarkable woman, who died far too young at the age of 33, biked 1100 miles and ran a marathon in Finland to raise funds for a Twin Cities nonprofit. She was a tireless advocate and volunteer for legal aid who became a certified foster parent even as she battled cancer.

Others made their mark in service to bar associations. One lawyer was president of the Minnesota Intellectual Property Law Association and a dedicated volunteer for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

Another served as president of the Minnesota State Bar Association exactly 49 years after his father served as MSBA president.

Military service is another characteristic of many of those we remember today. One lawyer was a proud Navy fighter pilot during the Second World War who became an outstanding insurance defense litigator. In one trial, he cross-examined a physician expert for a full day before the exhausted witness declared, “Sir, I agree you have demonstrated my opinion was wrong. May I now leave the witness stand?”

Another lawyer who went on to become general counsel of Honeywell worked with Julia Child in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, during World War II.

Another former general counsel of Honeywell began his career at 3M, where he was one of that company’s first in-house lawyers. He served as president of Goodwill Industries and of the Courage Foundation.

Another corporate lawyer handled labor and employment matters for Monsanto, Dayton Hudson, and General Mills, and edited the ABA Labor Law Section’s treatise for thirty years.

Many of the lawyers we celebrate were renaissance men and women.

One was the consummate scholar who read widely on topics from astrophysics to theology, and loved the poetry of Robert Frost and John Donne.

Another, who became president of his law firm, was an expert civil litigator and was the “go-to” attorney for complex legal issues.

Still another served as a CEO and board member of a number of Fortune 500 technology firms, and while leading one company won an Academy Award for technical achievement.

Another was a musician who played drums each week at jam sessions at Harriet Brewing and Studio 2 Café in Minneapolis.

Another enrolled in theater classes at the University of Minnesota and was recruited to become a professional actor before turning his talent for dramatic flair to litigation, where he defended one of the key parties in the decade-long action regarding the 1982 Donaldson’s department store fire in downtown Minneapolis.

Another renaissance lawyer was a distance runner who spoke three languages and became an advocate for nonsmokers’ rights, organizing the first nonsmokers’ rights session of the 1979 World Conference on Smoking and Health.

Several lawyers shared a passion for Minnesota sports. One lawyer who founded Messerli and Kramer was an avid Minnesota Vikings fan who held season tickets since the team’s inception in 1961.

Another bona fide Minnesota sports fanatic was born just thirteen unlucky days before the 1929 stock market crash. He loved the Twins and the Vikings, but always expressed a signature blend of optimistic pessimism regarding his team’s prospects. I’ll let you decide whether there was a connection between his date of birth and his attitude regarding professional sports in Minnesota.

A number of the lawyers we remember today shared a passion for world travel. One long-time private practitioner traveled to each of the seven continents, teaching at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Another served as an international transactional lawyer, traveling extensively in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

And another, a passionate Notre Dame football fan, travelled to Scotland and Ireland to play golf.

Let me conclude by honoring two former Hennepin County Bar Association presidents we lost last year. One died unexpectedly and far too early at age 69. He was a former executive director of Volunteer Lawyers Network, and a longtime Special Olympics gymnastics’ coach who helped numerous athletes with disabilities achieve their best.

The other former HCBA president died just one week short of his 98th birthday and is the only Minnesotan to serve as president of the HCBA, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. He retired at age 70, became a poet at age 88, and published, at age 96, a volume of poetry entitled “Beyond the Delta.” The final poem, which gave the book its title, is particularly poignant for our gathering this morning:

My trip was long, the river slow,
I docked my craft at many ports,
But others passed, unvisited.
Through all my countless varied years,
I sailed alone and drifted far.
Any now at last, I reach the sea –
Beyond the delta’s farthest sands –
And float the limitless unknown.

Although the 45 family members, friends, and colleagues we honor today now have sailed beyond the delta, we celebrate them as trailblazers who marked the path for us. They are the poetry of history, and they are forever in our hearts.


Thank you.


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