Pat Delaney, who retired as chairman of Lindquist & Vennum’s corporate-law department in 2002, counts 17 “odd jobs” that he worked from age 13 on to help pay tuition costs at St. Thomas Academy, the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota Law School.
His last 25 years at work were spent in securities law, laboring for a host of Twin Cities public and other companies. Delaney, 74, was able to step into a comfortable retirement of golf, writing and volunteering.
But he wasn’t born to the silk-stocking practice. He worked his way through school by necessity. His dad, a one-time boxer, English teacher and bar owner slid into alcoholism. He left the St. Paul family of six kids when Pat was a boy.
Delaney, a good writer who contributed sometimes pointed, always insightful essays to this section’s business Forum over the years, has written “Odd Jobs,” a fictional salute to working stiffs based loosely on his own experiences and relationships. It’s interwoven with the story of a lawyer who ran into trouble with regulators for his role in an alleged securities fraud rooted in his bank client’s peddling of mortgage-backed securities a decade ago.
We remember those guys. It was the stuff that precipitated the housing market collapse, the bailout of the financial system by the federal government, and the Great Recession. Too many swanks, who denied responsibility as they abdicated their fiduciary and moral responsibility, sought shelter in technical safe harbors, after they ripped off sometimes-also-greedy investors, the public and the system. It caused a lot of working people, most of whom weren’t to blame, to lose jobs and homes.
Delaney, a straight-talking lawyer who doesn’t put on airs, never forgot his working-class roots and the common folk he represented early in his career. Volunteering with his wife for Catholic Charities reminded him of how many of us are one job loss away from destitution and despair. He recognized early in his career that six-figure folks are as flawed as the rest of us. Maybe more so.
“There isn’t any job that’s unimportant,” Delaney said. “Hanging around working people — even the ones who called me a ‘candy-ass college kid’ — helped prepare me as a lawyer. Early on, I worked for Ron Meshbesher [a dean of the local defense bar] representing people in trouble. Some didn’t have jobs. People also would call me and ask for help getting jobs.
“As Freud said … wellness is about good health, [good relationships] and good work.”
Delaney worked as a teenager on an NSP gas-line street crew, lugging a 90-pound jackhammer in to blast away in holes 10 feet below street level in sweltering heat. He hoisted, washed and racked thousands of beer kegs at Hamm’s Brewery. He cleaned clothes for a dry cleaner and tried to stay awake and alert as a night hotel manager. Delaney even made a few bucks strumming his guitar during college and law school. The list goes on.
Delaney chuckles over the old guys teasing the college kids. He also remembers learning from them about how to do the job correctly, how to represent the company well and how to treat customers with dignity. None of them made any real money plying their trades. Some took a genuine interest in him.
“I had so many mentors I can’t even remember them all,” Delaney said. He eventually became a business lawyer, adviser and director of several successful firms, including public companies such as Community First Bank Shares, MTS Systems and CNS. Delaney mentored many young lawyers.
“Bringing my experience, including odd jobs, and being exposed to so many types of people, and eventually being a mentor, was a big part of what I did [as a law firm leader],” he said. “It all started with those odd jobs. They prepared me for education and my legal career. It was really satisfying.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.