Former ABA and Bingham leader with a 'life-affirming bounce' dies at 80

John J. “Jack” Curtin Jr., a longtime leader of the law firm now known as Bingham McCutchen, died last week in a senior living community in the Boston area. He was 80 years old.

In addition to making a name for himself in corporate practice, Curtin was a former president of both the American Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association and a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised.

“He had a tremendous moral compass,” his son, Joe Curtin, also a Massachusetts lawyer, told the Boston Globe (sub. req.). “He knew the right thing to do, and he would do it, even when it wasn’t the best thing for him. He always said to us: ‘When you have a tough decision to make, figure out the right thing to do, and then do it.’ ”

Curtin served as president of the ABA from 1990 to 1991. “The best way to honor Jack’s legacy is to continue his work for the poor and dispossessed,” ABA President James R. Silkenat suggested in a written statement.

The son of a concrete flooring contractor, Curtin helped his dad out at work and never lost his ability to relate to those who toiled behind the scenes, those who knew him said.

He earned his law degree from Boston College in 1957, as well as a master of laws degree from Georgetown University in 1959, and he started his legal career as a federal prosecutor before moving into private practice.

Curtin served for many years as chairman of the litigation department at Bingham. He was highly regarded both as “the most establishment of lawyers,” as former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall puts it, and as a consummate gentleman who extended a helping hand to others who might be from a very different walk in life.

“He reached out to women and minority lawyers, every new lawyer, to include everyone in one of his great passions, which was the pursuit of justice,” she told the Globe.

Curtin joined with his wife, Mary Daly, whom he met while both were in college, in advocating for the homeless.

Diagnosed with cancer 23 years ago, Curtin nonetheless never lost his “life-affirming bounce,” said former Justice Rudolph Kass of the state Court of Appeals in an e-mail to the newspaper.

Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court told the Globe that he admired Curtin very much. “He was everything a lawyer should be.”

Curtin is survived by his wife, two daughters, three sons, three siblings and 13 grandchildren. His Bingham profile provides more information about his career and details about services to be held Monday and Tuesday.

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