Thomas M. Fitzpatrick is a big man — literally and figuratively. He is physically tall (with two, even-taller sons) and a giant in the legal profession — for both his substantive legal career as a nationally recognized appellate litigator and expert in ethics and attorney discipline, and as a leader and change-maker within the organized bar. Indeed, Tom was present at the creation of numerous instances of important, necessary growth and change in the evolution in our profession.
Proudly hailing from Anaconda, Montana, Tom graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and, as a new lawyer, worked as a special assistant for the American Bar Association – Office of the President, where he worked with then-ABA President William B. Spann of Georgia. “Willie” Spann, a consummate ABA insider, took Tom under his wing and tutored Tom in the byzantine byways of the Association.
No one living understands how to deploy the clout and power of the American Bar Association as Tom Fitzpatrick. Quite an auspicious beginning for a man who has since risen to be the first Washington Young Lawyers president, then represent Washington lawyers for more than 25 years in the ABA House of Delegates (including his final tenure representing KCBA), serve as the Washington delegate to the ABA Nominating Committee, and be elected to the ABA Board of Governors, representing Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Montana.
Tom has a quick wit, with a laugh and smile that reaches all the way up to the twinkle in his eyes. That said, true to his nature, Tom will also stand his ground on principled issues, and use his advocacy skills to convince reticent colleagues to come around and shed outdated, but long-held positions and do the right thing, and to employ the bully pulpit of the Association for constructive and meaningful change.
Tom was instrumental in the advancement of LGBT individuals in the legal profession and on LGBT legal issues. In 1998, when elected to the ABA Board of Governors, he was its first openly gay governor.
The realization that he was gay and the coming out experience had only occurred a couple of years prior. Although some governors and staff did not know how to react, Tom bravely broke down the barriers and on different occasions included as his guests at board events his ex-wife, his lover and his children.
Tom was indefatigable, and effective, in altering perceptions of the LGBT community throughout the ABA. He faithfully attended board meetings and social events, and fulfilled his board liaison duties with the all-important Tax Section. Moreover, he was the consummate professional and effectively represented the Board to various ABA entities, drawing on his extensive knowledge and experience within the ABA, and also his legal expertise.
Once his board colleagues actually got to know Tom, the connection served as a basis to alter their perceptions of gay people. He faithfully went to board social functions and class dinners, getting to know his colleagues and their partners.
The highlight was hosting a “retreat” for board members in his class and their spouses on Whidbey Island, before the board meeting in Seattle. He had the hospitality suite in his room and everyone was there at some point in time. They became good friends, even if they differed on various issues that came before the Board.
Tom was also a catalyst for the Board (and indeed the entire ABA) actively addressing gay issues. While the ABA had previously adopted non-discrimination policies relating to sexual orientation, Tom’s presence on the Board became all important when it received a request to approve the filing of an amicus brief in Dale v. The Boy Scouts of America.
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