Former Florida Bar Foundation president William Van Nortwick Jr. passed away this week. Bill was a cherished member and pillar of our Foundation family and his contributions to the cause of justice were countless. He dedicated his life to the Rule of Law, the administration of fair and equitable justice, and to closing the justice gap. Oftentimes quiet and sometimes soft-spoken, he was at all times compassionate, passionate, and effective; inspiring us with his intellect, his grace, his disciplined and measured approach, and his kindness to others.
Bill, who received the 2015 Medal of Honor Award, was a director and two-term president of Foundation grantees Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and Florida Legal Services. He served as chair of The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service and previously chaired The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent, which led to the creation of rules requiring reporting of pro bono hours. He also chaired The Florida Bar’s symposium on equal access to justice, whose recommendations led to the first state funding for civil legal aid.
Bill was formerly a judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, and Partner-in-charge of Akerman LLP’s national pro bono program. His own pro bono work began during his first year in private practice at the Jacksonville law firm of Milam, Martin and Ade, which he joined in 1970 straight out of law school at the University of Florida. In one of his early cases he helped represent three African-American students who were expelled from school following a racially charged incident on a school bus. The students were eventually reinstated. He later put in more than 200 pro bono hours helping establish a medical clinic in an underserved Jacksonville neighborhood.
He received the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award in 1995 and 10 years later was the first recipient of the Florida Supreme Court Distinguished Judicial Service Award. He also has been honored with The Florida Bar Pro Bono Award for Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, the Thurgood Marshall Award for Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit, the Robert Beckham Equal Justice Award from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the Pro Bono Award of The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, and The Florida Bar President’s Award of Merit.
Bill served on the Florida Supreme Court Professionalism Commission, and chaired the District Court of Appeal Performance and Accountability Commission and The Florida Bar’s Business Law Section.
Bill grew up in Jacksonville and earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke University in 1967. He met his wife Maria E. Henderson, who served in 2012-13 as the Foundation’s only non-lawyer president, while training for the New York City Marathon in 1980; they were married in 1999. He loved traveling, hiking, wine, art and Duke basketball.
And while we grieve, we are grateful for knowing him and for everything he did throughout the course of his entire life and career to make the lives of others better and more fortunate. Our heartfelt condolences and appreciation go out to his wife Maria.