In Memoriam Pat Ford 4/2/13 04/02/13 9:15:36 AM
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February 5, 1943 – March 24, 2013
Tireless Homeless Advocate
For 10 years, Pat Ford visited homeless shelters in Omaha, providing legal help to anyone who needed it. Everything from acquiring birth certificates to dissolutions of marriage to child support issues to bankruptcies to debts and evictions.
He didn’t wear a suit, for fear of intimidating them. He counseled them, represented them in court, and met with them wherever they lived, including the area shelters. He conferred with the shelter directors. “He was in the trenches,” Dave Pantos, executive director of Legal Aid of Nebraska, said.
Ford was Legal Aid’s chief lawyer for the homeless and near homeless for a decade.
It was not always that way. Ford grew up in South Omaha, attended Creighton Prep and Creighton University and earned his law degree from Boston College.
After getting a medical deferment from the draft, he grew his hair long and drove a VW bus to San Francisco. He began his legal career as a sort of poor man’s “Lincoln Lawyer,” practicing out of his Chevy Nova on the Navaho Reservation in the California desert, his friend and one-time co-worker Sean Bradley said.
He ran Monterey’s Legal Aid Society, then landed a job with the flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli, traveling the world and earning a really big salary.
“He was a guy who, at one point, was making mega-bucks in California, but came here and spent 10 years in homeless shelters representing the homeless,” Pantos said.
Before Ford returned home, a brain aneurysm nearly killed him, wiping out his finances. His father died and his mother became ill, so he returned to Omaha to help. After she died, he stayed on and began working for Legal Aid. Sort of coming full circle from those days in the desert.
“He gave it his all,” Pantos said. And with his 30 years of experience, he helped mentor a lot of younger attorneys. “He taught them how to be poverty lawyers.”
When Ford suffered a stroke on June 27, 2011, “It was a big loss,” Pantos said. “We’re still trying to fill that niche.” Because in the nearly two years since Ford was hospitalized, he was never able to return to his job. At first it seemed he might make at least a partial recovery, but he suffered some setbacks and never left skilled nursing. He was 70 when he died.
His reputation was that of a man who could talk to anyone and knew how to get results.
“He was one of the smartest attorneys I ever met,” said Bradley, the Omaha attorney who worked with Ford for several years at Legal Aid before leaving for Cockle Law Brief Printing Co.
“He was a legend in the public policy arena. He had compassion for his clients. I remember one client, a gregarious woman, who would show up every week at the office. Then Pat would take her to the can-recycling center. He did that every week.
“He set a standard for everyone. He believed that all people deserved a basic dignity, and he was going to give it to them,” Bradley said.
Pantos said, “Just today, we reached out to a client in a domestic violence case. She said, ‘I heard that Pat Ford died. That’s how I got to Legal Aid. I was running from my ex-husband, and he was the attorney who got me here.’”
“I appreciated having him here, and hearing his stories,” Pantos said. “I am inspired by his legacy.”
He wasn’t all work and no play, even though he often worked long hours. He enjoyed friends and fun and writing in his journal. A Facebook page devoted to reporting on his recovery gives ample insight into Ford’s sense of humor.
In one final caring gesture, Ford left his body to medical science. He never married, and his lone survivor, his Uncle Ed, has made arrangements for a memorial Mass to be held Wednesday, April 3, at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. Lunch will follow at the church.
– By Lorraine Boyd, The Daily Record