In Memoriam: William Reece Smith Jr

The ABA Center for Pro Bono mourns the passing of William Reece Smith Jr., who served as ABA president from 1980 to 1981. Reece was a dedicated advocate for pro bono and his vision led to the creation of what is now the ABA Center for Pro Bono. The National Association of Pro Bono Professionals bestowed upon him the first  “William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award,” created in his name. His lifelong support and advocacy touched the lives of many in the pro bono community, and we invited some of those who knew Reece to share their remembrances with us:

“Reece Smith’s leadership, vision, guidance and direction provided the foundation supporting the strong and vibrant pro bono legal services delivery system that currently exists across the country.  I benefitted both personally and professionally from his support, nudging, mentoring and, ultimately, his friendship.   From my first days with the ABA over 18 years ago through the present I’ve been guided by a “what would Reece think” mentality.  I am profoundly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from him about how to lead, how to navigate the community and how to develop and implement a vision.” ~ Steve Scudder, Counsel, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service

“I came to the ABA from legal services due to the movement that Reece led as President to save federal civil legal services for the poor.   We ended up working closely together as he chaired the principal committee overseeing the Private Bar Involvement Project which had just been set up.  Our styles were different, so we had some challenges due to our very different backgrounds, but we did accomplish a great deal together. I spent a lot of time with Reece as I learned my job and we solidified the bond between legal services offices and the organized bar.  I came to appreciate Reece’s leadership and his deep commitment to justice that led him to use his Presidency to fight for federal legal services and his post-Presidential respect to institutionalize pro bono work as a signficant part of our legal services system.  He respected the work of all lawyers and truly believed in a profession that ensured that all had access to justice.  What I learned from Reece I have used throughout my career, in government, in civil rights work and in supporting civil legal services.  I had hoped that he had learned something from me also, though my youth and inexperience made me doubt that.  Many years, decades, later he did share that he was proud of me and my work and did indeed learn something from our work together.  It touched me deeply.  The bar and indeed the nation benefited from Reece Smith’s leadership.  I certainly did.” ~ Paul Igasaki, member of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service and former director of the ABA Private Bar Involvement Project 

“The access to justice to community never had a better advocate than William Reece Smith, Jr.  Reece deeply believed that the legal profession has a unique duty to provide access to justice.  His passion and his power to convince fueled his fight for the survival of the Legal Services Corporation and the establishment of the modern pro bono movement in the United States and several other countries.  The legal services community in particular and the whole of our profession owe Mr. Smith our deep gratitude and admiration for his devotion to legal services for the poor.  His leadership and kindness will always be remembered by those of us who had the privilege of working with him.” Ruth Ann Schmitt, Executive Director, Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois and former director of the ABA Private Bar Involvement Project 

You can also read the statement of ABA President Laurel Bellows.

Please feel free to contribute your thoughts and memories in the Comments below.

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2 Responses to In Memoriam: William Reece Smith Jr

  1. Bob Elardo says:

    I was on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals (then called the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators) when we “bestowed upon him the first William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award, created in his name”. We were so pleased and proud to be able to associate our fledgling organization with such an important and prestigious champion of pro bono. I can still remember how genuinely pleased he seemed and how gracious he was in accepting the award. Afterwards, because the award carried Reece’s name, we always felt that any potential recipients had to meet the “gold standard” in terms of their service to pro bono.
    Reece was not only a great leader, but also a great man. He truly made a difference.

  2. Patty Murto says:

    Our program in Duluth was one of the first of the ABA funded pro bono programs. Reece took special interest in our work both the successes and the failures. But he was clearly most happy with the successes. He truly understood the value of the Pro Bono Professionals out there day after day trying to get lawyers to believe as he did that being a lawyer was being a professional, and as such had a duty to give back, and to try to serve clients who desperately needed the help those lawyers could provide. How many past presidents of the ABA can you name? How many presidents of the ABA created such a legacy and remained committed and involved to the very end. William Reece Smith, Jr. was that rare president whose work lives long after he has left us.

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