It is with great sadness that DTC Lawyers says goodbye to our colleague and friend, Robert B. Donovan, Esq., who passed away on June 13, 2016. He was an attorney revered by his peers and appreciated by his clients. After receiving an L.L.B. degree from Harvard School of Law in 1955, Bob came to practice law with the Perkins & Holland law firm in Exeter, NH. As a partner in that firm, he helped it grow to become Holland, Donovan, Beckett, Welch & Hermans. In 2002, as his partners moved on to other pursuits, he paid DTC the compliment of becoming “of counsel” to our firm, until his retirement in 2008. In the course of practicing law in Exeter for 53 years, his intelligence, knowledge of the law, and willingness to pass on that knowledge to others, whether members of his firm, or not, was greatly appreciated by those of us who knew him. He was, in all matters, a scholar and a gentleman, and he is greatly missed by those who worked with him. We join with many other members of the Bench and Bar, who interacted with Bob over the years, in extending sincere condolences to Annette and his entire family, whom he loved so much. For more information, please see click here.
“Comments from DTC’s Michael Donahue on the passing of Bob Donovan”
Reverend Thompson, Annette and your sons and their families, Bob’s brother, Paul, members of the Bench and Bar and all those who have come today to remember and honor Bob, I want to thank Annette and her family for the honor of sharing with you a few remembrances as we bid Bob farewell. I’m sure all of you have similar very fond and wonderful things to say about Bob.
Last week when I called around after receiving the sad news from Annette, I was struck by the uniform reaction I received from Bob’s peers and the Judges’ before whom he appeared: Each had an example or related a vignette of something Bob had done, to take the time to help them, in the course of 53 years of a very busy practice he built here in Exeter.
I can attest that his clients feel the same way. While in his overriding modesty he never posted or circulated them, I know he got many “thank yous.” In fact, you might be surprised to learn that even before Bob joined our firm in 2002, two of his clients, at different times, actually mistakenly wrote to me to thank me, for what Bob had done for them. When I dutifully forwarded the first of these missives to Bob with a note thanking him for not forwarding the complaints he must have received about my performance, he called me right away and we shared one of our many ironic laughs over the vagaries of the practice of law.
I first met Bob in 1977 at what was known as the “call of the list” in the so-called “new” Rockingham County Courthouse on Hampton Road. It was a near daily event when all motions and any cases that were to be heard were called and assigned to a Judge. Many lawyers were there. As a first time attendee, fresh out of Navy JAG practice, I was both intimidated and intrigued by the whole evolution and its informality. I sat near the back of the courtroom and tried to be inconspicuous. Fortunately for me Bob came in and sat next to me. Bob introduced himself and said he thought I had made a good decision in coming over to Exeter (somehow he knew I grew up in Manchester) and that I’d really like practicing here. He offered his help with anything. In a few short phrases he made me feel like I belonged and put me at ease.
Before and since, he’s done the same and more for many, many others in all kinds of different ways and settings. Bob Donovan personified what lawyers call “collegiality”. During his time at DTC he was an incredible resource for all of us and so willingly, and openly, gave of his knowledge. As my partner, Chris Boldt added to our website memorial posting: “He was, in all matters, both a scholar and a gentleman.” Bob simply loved practicing law and, I’m sure somewhat to Annette’s dismay, he continued to work nearly full time for at least two years after he announced his retirement. We really benefitted from his presence, as did his many clients.
In preparing for today, I spoke with my partner Charlie Tucker, who, over many years, worked closely with Bob in many of the same practice areas. Charlie, a Yale Law School graduate related the old axiom that at Harvard Law School where Bob got his law degree you learned: how the law developed, with a focus on the common law; whereas at Yale you were taught what the law should be from a policy perspective; and everywhere else you learned merely what the law was. Charlie said Bob always knew the history and context of any statute or decision and had the ability and discipline to apply this knowledge in a practical way to solve a client’s problem.
Monthly, he shared that knowledge over a sandwich with our NH Practice Group, when we met to discuss recent decisions issued by the NH Supreme Court. Our young lawyers uniformly loved it because Bob went beyond the decision and explained why the statute or legal principle at issue in the case, came to be the way the Court interpreted it.
Bob took the same interest in all of our staff members. We saw it right away when we worked together on his transition to DTC. Bob’s abiding interest, which continues to benefit DTC today, was the welfare of nearly the entire HDB&H staff who followed him to DTC. Moving and changing law firms after 45+ years of practice in your own firm, and taking on a new role, cannot be easy, but Bob made it so. Whenever Charlie or I would approach him about any aspect of the transition he’d always respond with his disarming, knowing smile and say “Sure”; and that’s the way he was throughout his years with us.
For all his skill, intellect, experience and the success he had, Bob certainly never took himself too seriously and he wasn’t all work. Besides being Irish, he and I shared two afflictions:
1. The first was an abiding interest in Boston Sports Teams, but time doesn’t permit me to get into that now.
2. Our other enjoyable distraction was our mutual belief that Zinfandel, America’s so-called Heritage Grape, whose origins are shadowy and have been genetically linked to grapes native to both Italy and Croatia, is the best California red wine available, dollar for dollar. Shortly after joining us, Bob taught me the value of sticking with what he called the “Three R’s” – Ridge, Ravenswood, and Rafanelli; I was familiar with Ridge and Ravenswood, but he introduced me to Rafanelli – a small Sonoma family winery that quickly sells all it can produce. From then on, if either one of us came across a bottle of Rafanelli we’d buy two and exchange the gift of a great zin. I have one last bottle that came from Bob and I treasure it.
I know you all have your own memories and positive thoughts of Bob who did so much for all of us. In 1796 the noted statesman and Son of New Hampshire, Daniel Webster was a student here at the Academy. After graduating from Dartmouth College and apprenticing in Boston, Webster practiced law for a time in Portsmouth, commencing in 1807. Webster once said:
What a man does for others, not what they do for him, gives him immortality.
By this measure, in the words of Webster, Bob is “immortal.” He will be with Annette and his family, and especially his precious grandchildren, and with the many lawyers, staff members, judges and clerks, clients and their adversaries, neighbors and friends, and everyone he encountered, all the days of our lives.
Bob leaves us all richer and in that we all can find comfort as we deal with his loss and celebrate today his life of achievement and assistance to others.