Vol. 84, No. 7, July 2011
In June, I attended a memorial service for retired Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch, who passed away in February of this year. Several hundred people joined his family members in celebrating his achievements, both personal and political, and his passions for fishing, cooking good food and enjoying it with good wine, and his family.
Justice Patrick Crooks spoke of how Justice Bablitch and Justice Jon Wilcox tried to teach him how to fish for musky in northern Wisconsin. Stephen Bablitch told everyone how his brother’s passion for cooking began out of necessity after the early death of their mother. Sen. Herb Kohl spoke of Justice Bablitch’s easy willingness to offer sound advice. Former clerks and colleagues talked about his incisive legal analysis and his warm, careful mentoring. And former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who served with him in the state legislature where Justice Bablitch served as Senate majority leader, spoke of Justice Bablitch’s willingness to always listen to all sides and to compromise to make government work for the people of Wisconsin.
During the reception afterward, retired Quarles and Brady partner Frank Daily and I were talking when he paused a moment, and then said, “You know, George, this was a really uplifting service. Today, when lawyers are constantly under attack, we need to remember the good that we do every day, and we need to be reminded of the good that our best do for all of us.”
He is absolutely right.
Too often, in the rush of the day to day, we forget to remember. If you read through the annual proceedings of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin from the early 1900s, and even earlier, you will find lengthy remembrances of lawyers who have passed away. The bar was much smaller then. The original 291 lawyers who founded the state bar in 1878 had grown to only about 900 by 1911. Today, with 24,000 members, we largely settle for a mention at the back of this magazine.
But some continue to remember. Some local bar associations still regularly have a picture of all the members displayed in the courthouse. At least two local bar associations hold regular memorial services for members who have passed away. Milwaukee holds an annual memorial program presided over by the county’s chief judge and led by the president of the Milwaukee Bar. A couple of years ago, I was privileged to be invited to a similar program in Kenosha County, where individual remembrances were spoken about each member who had died, and the memorials were entered into the court record.
These are powerful events. Just as we pause from our daily routines to attend them, they give us pause. They ground us. They remind of us who we are and why we do what we do. And they remind us of the importance of the law and why we need to continue to fight to keep this a nation of laws.