Remembering Hennepin County Bar Members in Court and in Words

Tamara Hjelle Olsen, the first female managing officer of Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis, where she joined in 1986 after attending Harvard Law School, and a Minnesota's Top 100 Super Lawyers honoree, died last summer after a year-long battle with cancer at age 51.

Olsen's story was one of 29 compiled in a booklet for the Hennepin County Bar Association's Bar Memorial on April 11 to commemorate members of the bar who have died in the past year or so. Every year about springtime, the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District sets aside a court date to remember them, a tradition that, in some way, has been around since the 1930s, says Tom Nelson, the chair of the HCBA's Bar Memorial Committee.

"It's a special session of the Hennepin County District Court," Nelson says. "So, it's actually a session of the court with the robed judges and the chief judge of the Hennepin County District Court presiding. ...[It's a] meaningful moment for the Hennepin County Bar."

The lawyers' stories were written by family, friends or colleagues and organized and compiled by the committee, which works with the HCBA staff to make the memorial happen each year.

"Every lawyer has somebody remembering them with great stories and some are funny and some are poignant and some are sad," Nelson said. "The people who write the memorials are very, very careful about writing. It's a family member or a partner or a dear friend so that the memorials that are written are very, very special."

The bar members commemorated this year included veterans of the armed forces, senators, school board members, parents and business owners. They saw the Great Depression, the Vietnam War and 9/11. Many dedicated several decades to the profession. One man even celebrated his 101st birthday.

The committee gathers photographs of them, which are displayed in the atrium at the event. During the proceedings, the president-elect usually reads off all of the names, a wind ensemble or vocalist performs and someone always gives a speech.

This year, University of St. Thomas School of Law Dean Thomas M. Mengler delivered the main address. "Indeed, in the words of Mother Theresa, we learn from these men and women to 'be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies,'" says the transcription of the speech in the booklet.

"Many of you who are here today remember those times when your loved one was late coming home because he or she was taking a few more minutes to talk to the new attorney in the adjoining office," the speech continues. "These small things are perhaps the greatest contribution of this group of lawyers whom we honor today."

One point that was echoed throughout the booklet: they will be dearly missed.

"What I think is especially unique about [the memorial]," Nelson says, "is it's a very thoughtful way of remembering lawyers who passed away and it's a very special way of seeing how unique and remarkable the lawyers in our community are. It's really a remarkable group of men and women who are in the legal profession and I think it's a good reminder for all of us."

For more information on the memorial and the booklet go here.