Legal Aid mourns Woody Preston

Wilbur D. “Woody” Preston Jr., a founder of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston and the Maryland Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council, died Monday at age 90, the Daily Record reported today.

From the article:

While his legal specialty at the firm was complex commercial litigation, Preston also undertook with vigor the cause of providing legal help for the indigent through the Legal Aid Bureau.

Preston was instrumental in securing not only a headquarters for Legal Aid, but also in raising awareness of the organization in the legal community. Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr., executive director of Maryland Legal Aid, said fundraising for the bureau in 1996 was around $5,000.

Founded in 1997 with Preston as its first chairman, the Equal Justice Council now generates more than $750,000 a year from various foundations, law firms and individuals.

“I think lawyers coming up behind him, chronologically, would see from his example that you could be an excellent attorney with a profitable firm and still give back in a serious way to the legal community and the community in which you live and work,” said Andrew J. Graham, who now co-chairs the council.

Decatur H. Miller, partner emeritus at DLA Piper LLP, also worked with Preston for years on the Equal Justice Council.

“He was a true believer in the need for legal services for poor people,” said. “He didn’t just pay lip service to that notion either, he put a lot of work into it.”

Miller got his start with the EJC after speaking with Preston about fundraising for the organization. He said he doubted anyone but someone with Preston’s reputation could have achieved the response he got from the legal community.

“He went around to the leading law firms and raised a lot of money, mainly because people respected him so much,” Miller said. “It was an amazing soft sell that everyone, including me, responded to.”

Joseph, of Maryland Legal Aid, met Preston when he took over as executive director of the organization in 1996. New to the area, Joseph said he leaned on Preston to help him get in touch with the legal community.

“When I think of Woody, I think of his caring and his commitment and his ability to move people with a dose of humor …,” Joseph said. “He was the kind of guy who worked and played well with others.”

Joseph recalled one incident, early in his tenure, when he had a big speech to give to potential donors. He said that he and Preston were very anxious to make a good impression.

“I have an accent and I tend to talk too fast at times,” Joseph said. “And, Woody really wanted this talk to go well so we worked out a hand signal he would flash me if I started to talk too fast. It was pretty funny actually, and we laughed about it later for sure.”

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