Paul Van Valkenburg enjoyed a distinguished career as an attorney for more than four decades, also blazing a parallel path of quiet service to the community and devotion to his family.
Described by family members and friends as a gentle, loving spirit, Van Valkenburg, 79, died June 25 at Episcopal Church Homes in St. Paul.
Born in Minneapolis on Dec. 19, 1933, he was valedictorian at Washburn High School before attending Harvard University, where he received an undergraduate degree in 1955.
A third-generation lawyer, he attended law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and subsequently joined the Minneapolis law firm that bore his father Horace’s name, now known as Moss & Barnett, in September 1959.
He also taught business law at the University of Minnesota for 30 years, and was an enthusiastic fan of Gopher football. He retired in December 2000, after 41 years with the firm.
“Everything about Paul was low-key, disarming and accompanied with unfailing good humor,” said Tom Shroyer, president of Moss & Barnett.
At UW-Madison, Van Valkenburg met a student named Pat on a blind date; she would become his wife of 54 years. They honeymooned in the Boundary Waters on a canoe trip during a cold patch in August, his wife recalled.
“I kept telling Paul, ‘You need to cut more wood for the fire!’ ” she said with a laugh. “He wasn’t as comfortable in his [business] suit as he was in his hiking boots. He loved it Up North.”
Beyond his career, Van Valkenburg was active in the Arc Greater Twin Cities, as well as Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a group that helps those in the legal community battling alcohol and drug addiction, as well as stress, depression and anxiety. He recently celebrated 35 years of sobriety.
“Paul was someone who, when he did something, he would do it well and thoroughly. And he wasn’t ostentatious about it,” said Joan Bibelhausen, the group’s executive director.
He was a lifelong member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis — where he was baptized — serving as a deacon, elder and trustee. An Eagle Scout in the church’s Boy Scout Troop 33, he led canoe trips to the Boundary Waters and trips to Camp Ajawah.
“He had a wonderful way of embracing people and embracing life,” said the Rev. Katherine Michael at Westminster. “He always had a big hug for me after church.”
Van Valkenburg loved reading, travel, history, “any kind of information,” his wife said. “He was kind of a geek.” He also enjoyed music: “Paul once told me that if he hadn’t become a lawyer, he would have been a conductor.”
In addition to his wife, Van Valkenburg is survived by sons Douglas of Minneapolis and Peter of California; daughters Anne Eckert of Minneapolis and Elizabeth Findley of Milwaukee, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Sarah Lynn, and a brother, Jim Van Valkenburg, a former mayor of Edina, who died a month ago.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Westminster, with visitation an hour earlier.