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Friday, May 12, 2017

Henry H. Thayer: A Remembrance

By Daniel J. Ossoff

Henry H. Thayer, a giant of the Massachusetts real estate bar and a former President of REBA (then the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association), died March 26, 2017, 20 days shy of his 80th birthday. 
Henry H. Thayer,
Henry was a 1958 graduate of Harvard College and a 1963 graduate of Harvard Law School.  Between college and law school, Henry served in Korea from 1959 to 1960.  That represented a portion of a long military career – of which Henry was understandably very proud – that saw Henry serve in the U.S. Army Reserve for 33 years, enlisting as a Private in 1955, receiving his commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1958 and retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1988. A member of the Field Artillery branch, Henry also participated in Army Intelligence and the Foreign Liaison Service and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1988.
Upon receiving his J.D. from Harvard Law School, Henry joined Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster, and he spent his entire legal career at Rackemann.  Henry was a part of the last generation of title experts and conveyancers who grew up largely in the pre-title insurance age.  Younger than many of them – if not in age than certainly in appearance and spirit - Henry learned from – and quickly joined the ranks of – that group of notable members of the real estate bar as Abe Wolfe, Orrin Rosenberg, Wiley Vaughan, Norman “Shorty” Byrnes and others.
Henry was the driving force behind updating and bringing back into use Crocker's Notes on Common Forms, editing the eighth and ninth editions for MCLE.  In addition to serving as president of the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association in 1988, he received the MCA's highest honor, the Richard B. Johnson Award, in 1995.  He was also a president of the Abstract Club, and was a long-time and enthusiastic participant on the Club’s executive committee.
In addition, Henry served for many years as chair of the Joint Amicus Committee of both the MCA – later REBA – and the Abstract Club.  As noted by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall when she poked her head into the 125th Anniversary Dinner of the Abstract Club in 2008, Henry was absolutely unique in honoring the principal that briefs – most notably those submitted by Henry on behalf of the Joint Amicus Committee – should be brief.  Henry was also a fellow in the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, elected to that group in 1984.
Among his many philanthropic and charitable endeavors, Henry perhaps valued most his work with The Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, where he served as chancellor from September 2005 through January 2013 and was a member of the Cathedral’s Leadership Development Institute. In addition, Henry offered his much needed love and support to St. Paul’s Church in Brockton, MA. 
Those are the facts, but those are only a small part of what his many friends and colleagues will remember about Henry.  His fellow workers at Rackemann will remember the constant knocking on Henry’s always open door, with the knock inevitably greeted with a “What to you got?”  Or, if he was feeling particularly perky that day, a “Come forth and you shall be heard.  God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”  Greetings which could be intimidating to young attorneys at Rackemann as they approached the “great man”.  But which one and all quickly grew to understand simply meant that Henry was ready to drop everything that he was doing so that he could assist you with your question or problem, which, as soon as your knock was heard, became the most important thing on his desk at that moment.  And it was not just those within his own firm to whom Henry extended his generosity.  His phone would ring constantly with questions from fellow members of the real estate bar.  Henry invariably dropped everything and took the call on the spot, and shared freely of his knowledge and experience.  The one word which inevitably comes up in discussions reflecting on Henry’s accomplishments and his contributions to our legal community is “generosity.”  Henry gave freely of his time to all – almost to a fault if that is possible.
Henry’s generosity was by no means limited to other members of the bar.  He shared equally of his time with anyone who sought his guidance or advice.  Henry was absolutely oblivious to status.  At Rackemann he was noted for treating everyone equally and as his equal:  the folks in the mailroom, the secretaries and receptionists, his fellow attorneys from the newbies right out of law school to the most senior partners, and, of course, his cherished team of title examiners. The service that was held for Henry at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Wellesley on April 12th was notable in part for the impressive gathering of the best of the real estate legal community that was represented there.  But it was every bit as notable for the many members of the support staff at Rackemann who made the effort to attend the service for Henry out of a show of respect for a man who always showed them the utmost respect and kindness. 
His generosity also extended in very real and tangible ways to those less fortunate in our community.  Just as he couldn’t resist dropping everything for every knock on his door or call that came in from a fellow member of the real estate bar, he also found it extremely difficult to turn down the various pro bono cases that came his way. For many years Henry participated in the BBA's Volunteer Lawyers Project.  He also contributed many hours of work over several years providing pro bono service to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, serving as eminent domain counsel in connection with the rejuvenation of the Dudley Triangle neighborhood in Roxbury and Dorchester. In recognition of time that he donated to so many causes, Henry received the Boston Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award in 1991 and the Massachusetts Bar Association's Pro Bono Award in 1998.
We will also remember fondly Henry’s love of railroad history and his love of rail travel.  If there was a way to get where he wanted to go by train, Henry was on that train and not in his car or in an airplane. Of course, his love of all things railroad evolved into his expertise in the law of railroad titles, a subject on which he wrote and lectured extensively and on which so many members of the bar looked to Henry for guidance.  There hung in Henry’s office for years a framed map entitled “G. Woolworth Colton’s Series of Railroad Maps No. 2, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Lower Canada” published in 1861.  For those who knew him well, there is no doubt in their minds that Henry had committed that map to memory, as he was able to recite, without reference to notes, to files or to his famous box of index cards, the history of rail lines throughout our part of the country – and many from far afield as well.
But there was, of course, still more to Henry for those who practiced with him, enjoyed REBA and Abstract Club activities with him, or who counted him as a friend.  There was the way he wrote a letter.  His letters were beyond conversational – each sentence being a separate paragraph with bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout but with no excess formality and – most of all – no excess verbiage.  It didn’t matter if the letter was one of his many friendly missives to his fellow members of REBA or the Abstract Club, or was a letter to the Chief Justice of the SJC or the Governor of the Commonwealth.  The style was the same and unquestionably Henry’s.  And, of course, there was his quirky and at times unconventional wit.  He loved to share a joke and have a good laugh – occasionally at his own expense but not at the expense of others.  His love of humor – the sillier the better - and his tendency towards mischief, was truly infectious and made it a joy to be in his company.
Above all, Henry remained throughout his life, during good times and tougher times, the most humane of men, always kind and thoughtful, concerned more about the welfare of others than about himself.  For those who had the honor and privilege of knowing him well, we can’t imagine that there will ever be another Henry.  He will be profoundly missed.

Rackemann Sawyer & Brewster partner and former REBA president Dan Ossoff delivered the remarks above at a meeting of the Abstract Club on May 8, 2017


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