Remembering Bob Wilkins
“What is there to say and what is there to do?” These words from the classic Nat King Cole song ring in my ear. They represent the dilemma we all share when it comes time to express our sympathy and extend our condolences to the family following the death of a loved one.
For those of us who knew Bob well, he was a loved one. In addition to the love, we all had such high regard for Bob’s many accomplishments and contributions. The detailed enumeration is for another time and perhaps, for someone else. Even when sharing memories with friends, the words come with difficulty. And so it is that I find myself trying to write about Robert P. Wilkins.
He and I first met in San Francisco in 1974, following one of the early National Conferences on Law Office Management. The creation of the Economics Section of the ABA had just been authorized and this was the organizational meeting to formally elect officers and council members and to appoint those who would chair the committees. Originally, Bob had been scheduled to chair the insurance committee but when the section officers learned that Bob had experience as a magazine publisher, he was immediately commissioned to be the first editor of the Section magazine.
Bob was the publisher and editor of Sandlapper, a slick magazine about South Carolina’s history, places of interest, and of course, places to eat. He knew the business. Somehow he arranged for the printing of the Section’s magazine to be done in South Carolina and he recruited a full time editor. Legal Economics was edited like a popular magazine in contrast to most professional journals of the time. Practice management was in its infancy with most of the articles focused on administrative matters. The lead article in the first issue was entitled “How Can A Solo Practitioner Not Afford An Automatic Typewriter?”.
His next step was to wire around ABA policy that required all Section’s books to be published by the ABA Press. In order to avoid that, Bob called the Section’s publications “monographs”. Strange as that might seem, the powers at the ABA let it slide and the Section was off and running to become the ABA’s most prolific publisher of “monographs”. It would not be an overstatement to say that putting Bob Wilkins in charge of the magazine and of the publications would turn out to be probably the single most important decision in the long history of the Section.
In the late 1960s, Bob wrote and published “Drafting Wills and Trust Agreements,” a substantive system to guide a South Carolina lawyer through the process of writing a will or a trust agreement as part of the client’s estate plan. DWTA was almost beyond the cutting edge at the time and over the years, Bob continued to update and revise it. Eventually he assembled lawyers from most of the other states to have them provide modifications to his material that was specific to their jurisdictions and thereby turn it into a national publication.
Bob really did like to write and edit, and in fact, he edited South Carolina Lawyer, was the first editor of the ABA’s Probate and Property, and wrote and edited his own publications: The Lawyer’s Microcomputer, The Lawyer’s PC, The Perfect Lawyer, and then, when he retired, he wrote and published Fifty Things to Do With the Rest of Your Life.
Bob never ran out of ideas. In fact, he had more imagination and more ideas than anyone else in the Section or for that matter, more than anyone else I have ever known. At one time he even had a building set up with a school room where he attracted lawyers and their staffs from all over the country to learn how to use WordPerfect. Two of my assistants were among his first students.
Bob was always starting a new project and one year, his wife, Rose, gave him two books as presents. One of these books was rather thin and the other was rather thick. The one that was thick was entitled “Projects I Have Started” and the one that was thin was entitled “Projects I have Completed”.
Bob was the seventh person to chair the Section and he conceived the Symposia as the program for the annual meetings. Bob was a Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, The American College of Tax Counsel, and a charter Fellow and initial Trustee of the College of Law Practice Management. Over his career, he received many honors including the Sam Smith Award from the Law Practice Management Section.
He and Rose were two of our closest friends and as we traveled the country attending professional meetings, we always added a little extra time for ourselves. One year we were together for all or part of thirty days, days that hurried by ever so quickly. People like Bob Wilkins rarely come into our lives. They are irreplaceable.
As I look through the many scrapbooks that contain memorabilia of our times together, I am reminded of another song, “The Way We Were”. You’ll remember the phrase “scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind, misty water colored memories of the way we were.” We are not likely again to be around someone like Bob. Over a period of almost forty years, many of the details of our times together have long since been forgotten, but we always will recall the smiles we left behind and we will remember the way we were.