In memoriam: MBA Vice President Robert F. Lucas, 72

Issue July/August 2008 By Bill Archambeault

Robert F. Lucas was revered as much for his commitment to the law as for his devotion to his family and community.

Lucas, who died July 11 at the age of 72, was a vice president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and a senior partner at Nigro, Pettepit & Lucas LLP in Wakefield, where he practiced general law.

"He was one of the finest people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working," MBA President David W. White Jr. said. "He was a selfless volunteer at the MBA, committing decades of time and energy to the organization."

The list of volunteer positions he held and years of service are lengthy, both inside the profession and in the community.

He had previously served as MBA treasurer and was about to return as a vice president for the 2008-09 term, served on 14 MBA committees and boards, and chaired three. He received the MBA’s Community Service Award and the Membership Recruitment Award, and was a Foundation Fellow with the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the MBA.

"It was a privilege to work with an MBA leader of such integrity and warmth. My deepest sympathy to his wife, Regina, and all of Bob’s family," said MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington.

Lucas was a past president of the First District Eastern Middlesex Bar Association.

He was extremely active in Melrose, where he served on the board of appeals for 25 years, including 20 as chairman, and was a city solicitor. He was a founding trustee of the Melrose High School Permanent Scholarship Fund and was named Melrose Babe Ruth Coach of the Year. He led a fourth-place team to the city championship.

Lucas also chaired the administrative board of First United Methodist Church in Melrose, where he also served as a trustee and sang in the choir.

In addition, he was a former president of the Melrose Citywide PTO and a corporator of Melrose-Wakefield Hospital. He also volunteered as the mock trial
lawyer-coach for Malden Catholic High School.

Lucas is survived by his wife of 48 years, Regina (Abbiati); two sons, Robert F. Jr. of Acton and David R. of Melrose; a daughter, Jennifer J. of Belmont; a brother, Reed Gogan of Waterbury, Conn.; and three grandchildren.

A father, a mentor

But his daily work and behind-the-scenes commitment to improving the legal profession was only a part of Lucas’ story. He was a devoted town official, Babe Ruth baseball coach, church choir member, father, mentor and friend.

Despite working six days a week, "He always put his family first," said his son David R. Lucas, who works at Nigro, Pettepit & Lucas.

While home on break from college one year and looking for temporary work, David asked his dad if there was anything he could do at his firm. He was given general secretarial and filing work to do, and the research tasks he was given by another attorney intrigued him, so he decided to go to law school. His father never suggested it, let alone pressured him. In fact, David remembered seeing his dad come home from work stressed out.

"I never understood why anyone would want to do that," he said. "He never suggested I go to law school, not once. (Though), I think when he realized I was interested in the law, he was very excited about it."

When David graduated and was ready to start his own legal career, he was determined, at first, not to work for his father’s firm. It would be better, he thought, to get experience somewhere else first.

But then David realized there wasn’t anywhere else he’d rather work. All of the best jobs he’d held up to that point — whether it was washing dishes or mentoring children — were at places where he enjoyed his coworkers. And that kind of environment existed at his father’s firm.

"He’s always maintained this office as an extended family, for 45 years," David said. It was also where his father taught him not just how to practice law, but to be a lawyer.

"He taught me how to be a lawyer. And one of the golden rules was always that your word is your bond. Don’t ever make a representation that isn’t 100 percent accurate, and never make a promise you might not be able to keep," David said. "He taught me to really make it a point to become friends with the lawyer on the other side" without compromising anything for his client.

A model to strive for

Appeals Court Associate Justice James McHugh offered the highest praise for Bob Lucas.

"He was, for me, the model of what all of us should strive to be in the practice of law. Thoroughly prepared, a zealous advocate, never bothered by trivia, always gentlemanly and professional, and he refused to be drawn into the pettiness that sometimes characterizes hotly contested litigation," McHugh said.

Lucas appeared before McHugh in court several times, but one appearance in particular, a forgery case about 15 years ago, stands out in McHugh’s mind. Lucas was up against Harry L. Manion III of Cooley, Manion, Jones LLP in Boston.

"It was one of the best tried cases, on both sides, that I can recall," McHugh said. "In the end, Harry Manion gave just a powerful, powerful summation that had everyone in the courtroom riveted. When Bob got up, he paused for a moment. He looked at the jury, and he said, ‘Wasn’t that amazing? I can’t compete with that. So let me give you some facts.’ It was just a marvelous transition."

McHugh marveled at Lucas’ ability to relate to people, "whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless. It was always a real pleasure to see him walk into the courtroom."

Jim McAvoy, of McAvoy & McAvoy LLP in Melrose, offered both personal and professional insight into Lucas.

McAvoy lived across the street from Lucas for 40 years. He marveled at everything that Lucas was involved in, from the Middlesex Bar Association to supporting the Melrose High School band to serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

McAvoy appeared before the zoning board a number of times, including when Lucas was chairman. People would tell McAvoy they thought he was a lock to win his cases before the board given his friendship with Lucas. McAvoy would laugh.

"I told them, ‘He’ll give me nothing.’ He gave me nothing that I didn’t deserve. He did a tremendous job there for 20 years. He gave it leadership. He gave it organization. He really gave it direction," McAvoy said. "He was just a fantastic human being."