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Celebrating the Lives of Two Lawyers in Their Golden Years

The online ABA Journal recently featured two retired lawyers--one in Chicago, and one in Miami--who are living the good life well into their retirement years. 

In cold and snowy Chicago, in honor of his 100th birthday, a group of friends hosted a humorous mock trial for Leon Despres, a lawyer who has made a career out of rattling the cages of Chicago's politically powerful individuals and institutions.   Among the attendees at the mock trial were federal judges, a former United States Senator, a former U.S. Attorney, and Illinois' attorney general.  The charges against Despres included "heresy" and "sedition" and had resulted from Despres' work in civil rights and politics for more than 50 years.  During his years as an independent alderman of the city's 5th Ward, from 1955 to 1975, Despres fought against the status quo, racial discrimination in city hiring practices, and the taking of bribes by some of the city's aldermen.  He also promoted reforms including landmarks preservation and fair housing laws.

A reformer since his early years as an adult, Despres now lives in an apartment that overlooks Jackson Park in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, home to his undergraduate and law school alma mater, the University of Chicago. Today, as a centenarian, he remains concerned about social issues, including the closing of the Hyde Park Co-op grocery that he helped found.  Now, his "focus is not on past battles but those to be fought."

Meanwhile, far south of Chicago, in sunny Miami, Edna Shalala is enjoying her retirement after having practiced law for 50 years.  (In her first career, she had been a teacher until 1952.)  At 96, Shalala has been retired for only about six years, and she maintains an active schedule.

The educator-turned-lawyer is the mother of Donna Shalala, the Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration. She spends half of the year in Cleveland and the other half with her daughter, who is the president of the University of Miami.  Edna Shalala says, "I do everything a young person does--classes, lectures, water exercises, yoga. I used to play tennis. For many years I belonged to a health club in Cleveland. Down here I go the wellness center."

A recently broken wrist is not holding her back. In addition to maintaining two residences, she cooks Mediterranean cuisine and attends classes at UM's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on topics as diverse as art, music, and international politics.  She also recalls fondly her many visits to the White House when her daughter served in President Clinton's cabinet.  She remarked, "It was exciting, everyone dressed up, the decorations, the food and the service. It was very impressive to see everybody walking in behind the president and getting to go in line and meet the president."

Congratulations to Mr. Despres and Ms. Shalala.  May they continue to enjoy their retirement years richly. 

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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