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Past ABA president, Dorsey partner David Brink dies

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by the Dorsey law firm.

Former Dorsey & Whitney partner and dear friend David Brink died on July 20, 2017, in the Twin Cities.

He was 97 years old and the oldest living Dorsey alumnus. He was preceded in death by his wife, Irma Lorentz Brink, who died in 2008. He is survived by four children and eight grandchildren.

David Ryrie Brink was born in Minneapolis on July 28, 1919. He was raised in the University Grove neighborhood by his mother, Carol Ryrie Brink, author of the beloved children’s novel “Caddie Woodlawn,” and by his father, Raymond W. Brink, noted University of Minnesota mathematics professor and author.

He received a bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of Minnesota in 1940 and began law school at the University of Minnesota Law School but interrupted his legal education to serve as an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, retiring from active duty in 1946 as a lieutenant commander.

David returned to the University of Minnesota Law School to finish his legal education after the war, graduating in the spring of 1947. He was then convinced to join the firm of Dorsey, Colman, Barker, Scott & Barber by his former law professor at the University of Minnesota, William Prosser, who was then a partner in the Firm.

David began doing trusts and estates work at the firm under the direction of partner Harry Blackmun, progressing to a leadership role in the practice when Blackmun left the firm in 1950 to become general counsel of Mayo Clinic.

David rapidly became one of the leading experts in the region in the trusts and estates field, regularly teaching CLE courses and writing an article on “Probating a Typical Minnesota Estate” in the Minnesota Law Review that became the trusts and estates bible for lawyers across the state.

David went on to play an important leadership role in the profession on a local, state and national level, serving as president of the Hennepin County Bar Association in 1967-68, serving as president of the Minnesota State Bar Association in 1978-79 and, finally, after years of service on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and leadership roles in many ABA Sections and Committees, serving as president of the ABA in 1981-82.

He used his leadership role in the ABA and the profession to defend the Legal Services Corporation and promote pro bono delivery of legal services, to advocate for alternative means of dispute resolution, to help prevent congressional stripping of jurisdiction in the federal courts and to help promote the rule of law throughout the world through the international exchange and Human Rights Trial Observer programs, among others. (See sidebar for statement from ABA President Linda A. Klein.)

Despite his tireless efforts as a local, state and national leader of the legal profession, David also continued to be a vigorous and highly successful practitioner, becoming a fellow and later a regent of the American College of Trusts & Estates Counsel and the American College of Tax Counsel, as well as continuing to be a prolific writer and speaker not only on trusts and estates topics but also on human rights, pro bono, professional responsibility, legal reform and ADR.

He led a very rich and active family life throughout his long career and also found time to pursue his artistic muse in the form of painting and sculpture.

Following his retirement in 1989, David was very active on behalf of the profession in lawyer assistance programs, serving on the ABA Advisory Committee on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and working closely with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

In 2012, at Dorsey’s Centennial Gala, David was awarded Dorsey’s Keeper of the Flame recognition by then Managing Partner Marianne Short. The Keeper of the Flame award recognizes individuals who have been particularly influential and important in shaping Dorsey’s culture and partnership and preserving them over the decades — individuals who are both links to our past and beacons for us to follow as lawyers and as citizens in the future. That recognition has also been given to Peter Dorsey, Ray Reister, Russ Lindquist and Dick Clinton.

In his final years, David devoted much of his time to reading, teaching and writing poetry — a lifelong passion of his. In 2016, Mill City Press published a collection of his poetry titled “Beyond the Delta.” David’s poem “Beyond the Delta” is the last one in the collection, and it sums up the long journey of his life:

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.

And now, at last, I reach the sea –

Beyond the delta’s farthest sands –

And float the limitless unknown.

David was a tremendous contributor to the firm, to the legal profession and to the community. He was also a warm, wonderful and thoughtful colleague who loved coming to firm events in the decades after his retirement and getting to know the next generations of Dorsey lawyers and staff. We will miss him dearly. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and loved ones.

Statement of ABA President Linda A. Klein

The American Bar Association is saddened by the passing of former ABA President David Brink and expresses its sympathies to his family and many friends.

Brink was an active member of the ABA and served as its 105th president (1981-82). As ABA president, he defended the rule of law throughout the world by championing the Human Rights Trial Observer programs that helped monitor legal proceedings in other countries to promote fairness. He is remembered as the “Father of the ABA’s goal to Advance the Rule of Law Throughout the World” — which led to the ABA’s extensive international programs to assist newly free or developing nations with democratic forms of government, independent judicial systems and human rights, civil rights and international trade.

He protected the independence of the judiciary, campaigning against bills that would restrict court power in cases involving controversial social issues such as mandatory busing. Brink also was an advocate for pro bono delivery of legal services and successfully halted federal efforts to eliminate or diminish the Legal Services Corporation. He was an early advocate of mandatory continuing legal education for lawyers, alternative dispute resolution and probate trust law reform.

Brink was a pioneering advocate for lawyer assistance programs, serving on the ABA Standing Committee on Substance Abuse and on the Advisory Committee to the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which he played a role in creating. In the past several months, he contributed an endorsement to an upcoming ABA report on lawyer well-being. In his home state of Minnesota, he was a board member of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, which offers help to lawyers with stress, mental health and substance abuse challenges.

In addition to his ABA work, Brink was a retired partner of Dorsey and Whitney, where he was widely recognized as a leader in the field of trusts and estates. He also served as president of the Hennepin County Bar Association and the Minnesota State Bar Association. Brink worked as a code breaker during World War II and later in life wrote and taught poetry, publishing a book of poems titled “Beyond the Delta.”

Brink was a trusted adviser and impassioned advocate for the rule of law around the world. He devoted his life to issues of fairness and equal justice in far-off lands and in his own community. He will be greatly missed by us all.

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