Latimer remembered as a teacher, mentor, friend

first_img Latimer remembered as a teacher, mentor, friend Car accident claims the life of Broward board member Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Henry Latimer never had to ask for quiet when he spoke at a Bar Board of Governors meeting. Nor did he have to raise his voice.It was obvious that when the bearded Latimer was recognized during a board debate — and as he rose, stepped behind his chair, and then, placing his hands on its back, leaned forward — his opinions commanded respect.He had served on or chaired most of the top board committees, and was picked for special committees that addressed the toughest of topics. He was urged to run as the Bar’s first African American presidential candidate.So it was a somber board that gathered on January 28 and paused to remember the man whom his friends knew simply as “Lat,” who died four days earlier in a single car accident. Latimer was 67.Bar President Kelly Overstreet Johnson announced she was appointing a three-member committee of President-elect designate Hank Coxe, public board member Dr. Solomon Badger, and board member Ervin Gonzalez to work with other legal groups and establish a fitting memorial to Latimer’s legacy as a lawyer and judge.“I had the privilege of knowing Henry Latimer for well over 20 years,” said fellow 17th Circuit board member Jesse Diner. “He was an uncommon man from very, very humble beginnings.”He noted that Latimer went to law school later in life because first he served in the Marines to get the money needed for college and law school. He was also a teacher and federal employee before getting his law degree.“He was a judge in Broward County and always got the highest ratings in the judicial poll,” Diner said. After several years, he returned to private practice where he managed one large firm and became a senior partner in another, as well as becoming president of the Broward County Bar Association.“He would have run for president of The Florida Bar next year and undoubtably would have been elected,” Diner said, “for no other reason than he deserved it.”Board member Frank Angones noted that at the Minority Bar Summit at the recent Midyear Meeting, he predicted the Bar would have a black president within two years. That prompted a spontaneous chant of “Henry, Henry, Henry.. . ” by the participants.H.T. Smith, who first met Latimer when they were part of the first class of black law students at the University of Miami in 1970, said he saw Lat the week before he died and told him how excited he was at the prospect of him running for Bar president and what a tremendous statement it would be and how it would make more black lawyers feel better about actively participating in the Bar. But all Latimer wanted to do was talk about how he could help others, Smith said.“First-class lawyer, first-class human being — it’s hard to find both in one individual,” Smith said. “A lot of lawyers have told me that if we wanted to send a representative to another planet to say this is what lawyers are like on Earth, then we should send Lat. Mature, wise, considerate, well-prepared, brilliant, humble, just a first class-lawyer. . . you could not help but respect him.”Bar Executive Director John F. Harkness, Jr., said he has worked with many members of the Board of Governors over the years and watched as they debated, argued, and finally came to agreement on issues — and while Latimer did not speak often or at great length, when he spoke everyone listened.“It is a tribute to a person when 51 other people will stop and listen,” Harkness said. “Lat was to the point, told it like it was, logically stated his position, and you knew it was with conviction and from his heart as well as his mind.“Most people can be replaced but there are some who cannot,” Harkness added. “You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could duplicate the caring, common sense, good nature, knowledge of the law and people, and the willingness to share that Lat possessed.”Fellow 17th Circuit board member Frank Walker placed into the Bar record a South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial praising Latimer and his life. “A product of the housing projects in Jacksonville, Latimer didn’t let conventional wisdom or long-held obstacles slow him down,” the editorial said in part. “As a corporate lawyer, Mr. Latimer continued to excel as an innovating and thorough attorney. He also became a mentor for many attorneys who saw him as a source of legal and political knowledge.”Board member Ervin Gonzalez said he worked with Latimer as a new lawyer after Latimer returned from the bench to private practice.“He was quite a gentleman. He always fought for his causes, but never in a way that was offensive to anyone,” Gonzalez said. “One thing he always passed on to me is you need to make a change in life by mentoring individuals one-to-one.“He said, ‘always dream, you need your dreams, but dream with your eyes open so you can see the opportunity to make your dream come true.’”President Johnson said, “I underestimated the number of people he knew and the number of people whose lives he had touched around the state.“It’s a huge void for lawyers in general and particularly minority lawyers,” Johnson said. “He was larger than life. He’s irreplaceable.”One of those Latimer touched outside the board was Second Circuit Judge Nikki Clark. She said Latimer was a mentor to her and was a constant source of encouragement and inspiration.“There is an emptiness in the hearts of all who knew Henry Latimer,” Judge Clark said. “He was as fine a lawyer as you could ever meet — respected by his colleagues, judges, courtroom adversaries, and countless people he served through the boards and committees he served on and his many pro bono activities. I am surely a better person because our paths crossed. We have lost an incredible friend and lawyer.”“He did everything for everybody with such integrity,” said Caran Rothchild, of Greenberg Traurig, who worked closely with Latimer for nearly 10 years. “He helped mold and mentor young adults and teenagers with aspirations in the legal profession. He participated in numerous legal clinics, giving free legal advice and help to the indigent.”“First and foremost, he was a person who cared about others and without fanfare helped the helpless,” Former Bar President Miles McGrane said, adding Lat “inspired us all.”According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Latimer was driving on I-595 just after 7 p.m., January 24, when he swerved to the right to avoid a large piece of plastic debris in the road, then overcorrected to the left, losing control of his Mercedes Benz and crashing into a piling underneath the I-95 flyover ramp. Latimer’s car then burst into flames. Two fellow motorists, including an off-duty Broward County firefighter, pulled Latimer from the burning wreckage and administered CPR until paramedics arrived on the scene.Latimer was taken to Broward General Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, according to the Sun Sentinel.Latimer had served on The Florida Bar Board of Governors since 1999, and he was recently elected to serve another two-year term through June 2007 representing the 17th Judicial Circuit. His board committee service included Communications, Program Evaluation and Strategic Planning committees, and he was board liaison to the International Law Section and a member of the Judicial Independence Committee.Additionally, he was vice chair of the Bar’s Commission on Lawyer Regulation which is currently conducting a study of the process of disciplining lawyers. Last year, he was vice chair of The Florida Bar Citizens Forum, a special advisory group representing various nonlawyer constituencies in Florida. He was a former chair of the Bar’s Committee on Equal Opportunities in the Profession and frequently served as a speaker at programs promoting diversity in the profession.Latimer is survived by his wife, Mildred Latimer, and daughters Desiree Latimer and Tracie Kimreka Latimer. Memorial donations should be made to “Community Foundation of Broward, Inc., for the Henry Latmier Memorial Fund,” 1401 East Broward Blvd., Suite 100, Ft. Lauderdale 33301, (954) 761-9503. February 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Mentor to many, role model to all Chief Justice Barbara Pariente With the tragic and premature death of Henry Latimer, we have lost a widely respected and dedicated lawyer and judge and a compassionate, passionate, and courageous human being. I have lost a friend of over 30 years, and I am devastated by his death. I know that so many in this state feel saddened by the loss of this great human being, who was a mentor to so many and a role model to all of us.I first met Henry over 30 years ago when I was clerking for U.S. District Judge Norman C. Roettger, Jr., and Henry was trying his first case. He later told me, “You may not recall, but you and I met when you were a bright-eyed law clerk for Judge Norman Roettger. As a young lawyer, it was my first trial. Your star qualities were evident then.” Of course, I recalled Henry Latimer; he was unforgettable and I immediately recognized Henry’s uncommon abilities and potential for greatness.Over the years, our paths continued to cross as we both served on The Florida Bar Civil Rules Committee — he as a judge and me as a lawyer. When he went back into private practice and I went on the bench, we continued to stay in touch, giving each other mutual encouragement. When I ascended to chief justice, he was there for me at my Pass the Gavel ceremony, and I have many photos taken of us at that time that I will always cherish. I was so happy that he chose to stay active in the organized Bar; I was so moved by his continuing commitment to pro bono legal services to the poor; and I was so thrilled to learn that he had made the choice to run for president of The Florida Bar. He would have been a truly great president, representing the finest that diversity can bring to our profession.In one of the last letters Henry wrote me, he told me he admired me for the courage that I had shown in battling breast cancer. He ended with the note: “You will be taken care of by a higher being.”I do not understand why he was taken from us, but I have no doubt that Henry Latimer will be taken care of by a higher being. And for all of us remaining on the Earth, his legacy must continue to inspire us to always do the right thing and to ensure justice for all. Henry, I will miss you so very much.center_img Latimer remembered as a teacher, mentor, friendlast_img read more