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A call never made

The day before Thanksgiving, I was swamped.

By late morning, I already had sticky notes, with last-minute to-dos written on each, trailing from my monitor and across my desk. The cheerful colors of the notes were deceptive. They were, in fact, sinister as they threatened to swallow up the simple, yellow legal pad hosting the carefully-organized task list I had completed earlier.

Things had quickly gone awry and it was going to be a very long day.

I had a scheduled lunch with a dear friend who is in the judiciary. Since we both work downtown, I didn’t feel too guilty about my work lapse to meet her. I only had to walk a couple of blocks, so I would shave some time.

Besides, I was excited to see her. I had a secret to tell.

I knew full well I was about to break some publisher ethics code, but the draw was too strong. Maybe I could blame my judgment lapse on the sticky notes. They had overwhelmed me, I might claim, if ever challenged over it.

I just had to tell her.

So within minutes, warmed by the heat of the restaurant and the friendship, the words were tumbling out of my mouth. I could barely contain the whisper, which I used with intent to express the seriousness of the confidentiality needed.

“Please, please don’t tell anyone, but I’m about to bust,” I said. “Rick Teitelman is our Lawyer of the Year.”

A huge smile overtook her face.

“He will be so happy,” she whispered back. “I can just hear what he’s going to say when you call him.”

Right before our lunch, my leadership team had met and made the decision to bestow upon Judge Richard Teitelman our highest honor for our Missouri Lawyers Awards — Lawyer of the Year.

My friend, like me, adored Rick.

And so it went. We laughed and spent the rest of lunch in an effort to one-up the other with tales of his generosity of spirit and support.

After a while, I headed back to the office where I was again quickly wrapped in all those to-dos, eventually meandering home at some point to enjoy a long Thanksgiving weekend with my family.

When I arrived at work the following Monday, the legal pad had patiently awaited my return, but the sticky notes had dropped onto the floor. I put my head down and began plowing through. At around 5 p.m., I was starting to dig my way out.

There were just a couple of things left on the list.

“Call Rick Teitelman on MLA win,” was still scrawled from the week before.

I debated about whether to make the call then or wait for the morning. I chose the latter, convinced my renewed energy would make it even sweeter. Like my friend, I could hear his happiness in the response I imagined he would have.

I picked up my purse, pulled the office door shut and went home for the evening.

The morning came, but the call never did.

Rick died sometime the night before.

I sat at my desk, face in hands and elbows on the legal pad, when my cell phone rang.

“Did you call him?” my friend asked as she cried.

Rick has been eulogized by so many in the legal community since his death. His acts of kindness and commitment to the less fortunate are renowned. There’s nothing I can add to those wonderful memories other than to simply say Rick was one of my heroes.

Missouri Lawyers Weekly has never, to my knowledge, named a Lawyer of the Year posthumously. And while we had absolutely no intent to start, we do so proudly. Honoring Judge Teitelman is the right thing to do. It was right on Nov. 28 and it was still right on Nov. 29.

No doubt, Rick takes the headline in our honors spot for our Missouri Lawyers Awards, but he is not alone. We also celebrate the work of many others. In these pages, you will find tributes to attorneys whose tireless work has had a direct, positive impact. Nominations for these awards were submitted from across the state and from a wealth of resources. The nominations alone are a testament to the great work practiced day in and day out by so many dedicated men and women. But in selecting the honorees, we looked at not only expertise in the profession, but commitment to community. They are leaders, not followers. They understand, and demonstrate, that service to their communities isn’t a byproduct of success; in fact success is a byproduct of service.

On behalf of everyone at Missouri Lawyers Weekly, I extend my sincerest congratulations to the 2017 Missouri Lawyers Awards honorees. We are proud to be a part of this recognition and grateful to those honored this year.

And Rick, I promise… we’ll have that call one day.

Irwin, Liz 2_newLiz Irwin

Publisher, Missouri Lawyers Media

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