When the Minnesota State Bar Association surveyed its members asking who they would most like to see present continuing-education courses, 93 percent of the respondents mentioned David Brink.
"Maybe I told some good jokes, I don't know," Brink told Minnesota Lawyer magazine in a profile as one of the state's top lawyers.
The respect of his peers — and his self-effacing reaction — told the story of Brink's legal career, which included national recognition as an expert on trusts, estates and probate, and of rising to become a reformist president of the American Bar Association. Brink died of heart failure July 20, one week shy of his 98th birthday.
The law and lawyers meant so much to Brink that after his retirement he continued working on such issues as mentoring and substance abuse among lawyers. In a 1981 paper on legal education that examined new concerns about the field, he reflected on his passion. "No other profession is as well disciplined, contributes so many and varied services pro bono publico, or is subject to such close scrutiny by courts, legislatures, and consumers," he wrote.
Said Ken Cutler, managing partner of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm: "He understood that it was very important for a lawyer to be a trusted adviser."
Brink was elected president of the American Bar Association, serving from 1981 to 1982. As president, he championed programs that helped monitor legal proceedings in other countries to promote fairness. He was a pioneer in programs to assist newly free and developing nations with democratic forms of government, independent judicial systems, and human rights, civil rights and international trade.
"Brink was a trusted adviser and impassioned advocate for the rule of law around the world. He devoted his life to issues of fairness and equal justice in far-off lands and in his own community," ABA President Linda Klein said.
Brink was born July 28, 1919, and was raised in the University Grove neighborhood of Falcon Heights. His mother was Carol Ryrie Brink, author of the beloved children's novel "Caddie Woodlawn." His father was Raymond W. Brink, a University of Minnesota math professor who wrote best-selling math textbooks. He graduated from Marshall High School and attended the U, graduating with honors in 1940. He enrolled in the U's Law School, but interrupted his education for military service in World War II, serving in the U.S. Navy as a cryptographer, breaking Japanese codes.
After leaving the service, he graduated from the Law School and joined the firm that is now Dorsey & Whitney LLP as an associate in 1947. In 1953, he became partner at Dorsey, succeeding the late Harry Blackmun (later a Supreme Court justice) as the head of the Trusts & Estates Department. He retired in 1989 at age 70.
In retirement, he turned his focus to his childhood love of poetry, leading a poetry club at the Edina Senior Center. At age 96, he published "Beyond the Delta," a collection of his poetry.
"After he retired, the aging process eventually forced him to slow down," recalled a daughter, Mary Brink Watts. "Writing poetry was a natural fit. He was able to weave his incredible knowledge of history and literature into his poems."
He was married four times — to Betty Jo Ellis Brink, Mary Helen Wangensteen Brink, Lucile Adams Ranz Brink and Irma Marie Lorentz Bong Brink. He is survived by a sister, Nora Caroline Brink Hunter of Whittier, Calif.; four children — Anne Carol Brink of Long Beach, Calif., Mary Claire Brink Watts of Plymouth, David Owen Brink of La Jolla, Calif., and Sarah Jane Brink of Seal Beach, Calif. — and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life reception is planned for 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 26 at 6Smith, 294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata.