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Bert Early, former ABA executive director, dies at 91

Posted Aug 8, 2013 2:30 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Bert Early, 1922-2013. ABA Journal archive photo.

Bert Hylton Early, who led the American Bar Association from 1964 to 1981, died Sunday at the age of 91.

Early, a West Virginia native, was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, serving as a first lieutenant. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1949, and began practicing law in Huntington, W. Va. An active member of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, Early left private practice in 1957 to join the law department at Island Creek Coal Co. He joined the ABA in 1962 as the organization’s deputy executive director.

Early was promoted to executive director and chief operating officer in 1964. Later in his career, he served as a board member and president of the American Bar Endowment. He and his family lived in Hinsdale, Ill., where Early was on the boards of the Hinsdale Hospital Foundation and the Robert Crown Center.

"Bert Early was first of all a real gentleman, committed to the very best in our profession,” said ABA Executive Director Jack Rives. “He had a great passion for the American Bar Association, and his legacy of service and achievement will endure."

Early left the ABA to join Wells International, a legal search firm. He wanted “to have one more career,” Early noted in an obituary he wrote for himself in 2012.

“Of course he wrote his own obituary! Bert was very orderly,” says Corinne Cochran, his former partner at the executive search firm Early Cochran & Olson. “He was a great storyteller, and he was a gentleman. He loved the ABA, but yet at the same time he was a change agent. The ABA is a very different place now.”

Early is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth Henry, and four sons, B. Hylton, Robert, Mark and Philip. He was preceded in death by a son, Peter, who died in 2010.

Services for Early will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Union Church of Hinsdale, 137 S. Garfield Ave., Hinsdale, Ill. A reception immediately following the services will be held at the Hinsdale Golf Club, 140 Chicago Ave., in Clarendon Hills, Ill.

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