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Leaving an ADR Legacy

Susan M. Yates, December 14th, 2011

Court ADR lost a champion yesterday when Judge Harris H. Agnew, RSI’s long-time Executive Committee Chair, passed away after a long struggle to regain his health. Judge Agnew led by example, with kindness and courage.  This blog post I wrote back in April talks about the tremendous role he played in advancing court ADR in Illinois. But there was so much more to Harris than just his work with ADR.

Those of us who were fortunate to know him learned a lot from Harris:

Leading sometimes means doing what is right, even when others don’t see it.

Whether it was mentoring the first women to join the bench in the 17th Judicial Circuit or implementing arbitration and mediation there, Harris stuck his neck out. He opened doors for people and ideas that would bring positive change even in the face of opposition.

Be kind, but don’t be a patsy.

Harris was so kind to everyone he met that it took me a while to understand just how politically savvy he really was. He understood how the rough and tumble of politics was played, and I think he had some fun with it, but it was all with the intent of improving the lives of the citizens of his community and state.

Be humble, but have a healthy ego.

Harris was the kind of guy who knew the names and life stories of the security guards in the courthouse as well as the most powerful lawyers in town. He would thank me for calling him, for working with him, even though he was the one with the power and connections.

Clean up after yourself, no matter how high your status.

Harris never saw any work or any people as beneath him. When we had lunch meetings, Harris was right in there cleaning up the conference room afterward.

Never take yourself too seriously.

Harris would comment on how people didn’t find his jokes as funny once he was no longer a chief judge. And in case he was ever in danger of being too serious, his wife Pegee was there to remind him to laugh.

Listen more than you talk.

Harris was truly interested in what was happening in the lives of those around him and in their points of view. While he was happy to talk about his grandchildren and how proud he was of them, he always asked after my family, too.

Work hard.

Harris never really retired. Even when he was off the bench, he was working to spread ADR around Illinois, to improve the parks of his beloved Rockford, to help others who were experiencing heart disease. As his health deteriorated, he worked hard to regain it. Having experienced what he considered truly hard work loading mortar shells in the military, his work as an insurance adjuster, lawyer, mediator or community leader just didn’t seem so difficult.

Be real.

There was not a phony bone in Harris’ body. What you saw was what you got.

Appreciate what you have been given.

In his semi-retirement, Harris enjoyed being free of the tribulations of being Chief Judge. He relished the opportunity to travel with his wife and their friends in a giant RV.  He reveled in the successes of his grandchildren.

Love your family, your God, your community, your friends.

Harris was old-school in the best possible way. He adored his wife, worshipped faithfully, believed in Rockford, and enjoyed a wide circle of friends.

Believe in ADR.

Harris would tell anyone who would listen about the value of ADR. He worked to bring ADR to courts throughout Illinois. He leveraged his status and connections to develop ADR not to help himself, but because he truly believed it would strengthen the provision of justice.

What can we do to honor Harris’s legacy? We should serve, lead and love. And work hard for positive alternatives to the traditional court system. Just don’t take ourselves too seriously as we do it.


7 Responses to “Leaving an ADR Legacy”

  1. Kent Lawrence says:

    Well said Susan.

  2. Linda Beitz says:

    Dear Susan – what a wonderful acknowledgment of your friend and colleague. Your simple, but sage words will serve me well as a reminder of what matters most in connecting with others – and living a meaningful and loving life. Thank you.

  3. Cookie Levitz says:

    A lovely tribute for a lovely individual.

    Thank you Susan.

  4. Susan,

    Great eulogy. I guess the only thing left unsaid, is that I don’t know anyone who didn’t feel Harris was his/her friend. He was always willing to listen to other people and make them feel good, even when he didn’t agree with them. Harris Agnew was one of a kind and someone that could be a model for young lawyers everywhere.

    Steve Cohen

  5. Jim Woodward says:

    I have come to know a great many judges during my 28 year career in court administration, but few have matched the qualities that I saw in Judge Agnew. Judge Agnew and I worked closely together to bring the first mandatory arbitraion program to his own 17th Circuit in 1985. I knew then that he was one of a kind, as a professsional, a judge and a person. Judge Agnew’s passion for justice, good government and quality ADR were hallmarks of his approach to judging. He and I shared an interest in running, and we spent a good deal of downtime together just talking about family and current issues of the day. I feel like I have lost a dear friend, but I am proud to have known him.

    Jim Woodward
    Clerk of Court, US District Court St. Louis, MO

  6. Suzanne Schmitz says:

    When the history of ADR in Illinois is written, Harris Agnew will be identified as one of its parents. Every time I saw him at an ISBA meeting, he stopped to chat and always displayed enthusiasm for whatever he or I was doing. I always felt more alive after a chat with him, no matter how short.

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