Michael B. Roche In Memoriam (1941-2018)

December 15, 1941 – February 25, 2018

The firm of Schuyler, Roche & Crisham is mourning the sudden passing of Michael B. Roche, one of its principal members.

Mike’s singular abilities as a lawyer, and his role in building the law firm, are addressed below.  However, Mike’s legacy also includes an exemplary record of service to others, which he considered to be more significant than his professional activity.  In 2013, Mike read about Dr. Patrick Angelo’s delivery of meals to the homeless living on Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago.  Mike contacted Dr. Angelo and joined the delivery team.  Every Thursday, night, Mike personally delivered 75 to 90 meals to the homeless, often accompanied by his grandson, Jack.  Mike did more than merely delivering meals; he engaged the persons he met in conversation, and came to consider them “his people”.  Helping the homeless became Mike’s passion and mission in life.  As described by his son, Michael T. Roche (who accompanied his father on occasion), Mike’s eyes lit up when he approached Lower Wacker to make his deliveries.  As Michael T. Roche aptly said of the homeless during his father’s eulogy, “They fed him.”

In addition to his mission to help the homeless, for many years Mike volunteered at a Northwestern University program devoted to expunging criminal records of individuals who had committed minor, petty violations in their youth, and as a consequence, found themselves hamstrung in achieving their full potential as citizens.

Mike was also known for hundreds of individual acts of kindness to those in need.  A singular example occurred in 1984, after one of the firm’s young lawyers was killed in a tragic accident, Mike befriended the young man’s mother, and continued to correspond with her throughout the remainder of her lifetime.  Mike was also instrumental in the creation of a scholarship fund in that lawyer’s memory at his alma mater, Detroit Catholic Central High School, typically attending the annual dinner at which the scholarship was awarded.

Mike’s charitable activities were an outgrowth of his deep and serious commitment to his Catholic faith.  Mike was a leader in his parish (St. Joan of Arc in Evanston).  Together with Phil Zera, Mike recruited many men to make an annual silent retreat at Bellarmine Hall, a Jesuit retreat house in Barrington, Illinois.  One of the priests housed there estimated that more than 1,000 men had made retreats due to Mike’s efforts.  Mike had just attended that retreat in late January 2018, only two weeks after the unexpected death of his wife of 47 years, Kathy – an experience that Mike found particularly comforting in his time of grief.  He served on the Board of Directors for the Jesuit Retreat League and on the fundraising committee for St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.

Mike’s professional career was equally as impressive as his charitable activities.  Mike joined SRC (then known as Hubachek, Kelly, Rauch and Kirby) shortly after his graduation from law school in 1966, and was admitted to the Illinois bar that same year.  In the early years of his practice, Mike worked closely with the late William T. Kirby, generally regarded as Chicago’s top commercial litigator.  Bill Kirby was a demanding taskmaster, and under his tutelage, Mike developed a strong work ethic, a devotion to accurate and precise, penetrating analysis of the law, and extraordinary ability as a writer – traits that he then passed on to the numerous lawyers he mentored over his more than 50-year legal career.

One of Mike’s favorite stories about the training he received (or, stated otherwise, endured) under Bill Kirby concerned an occasion on which Mike gave Mr. Kirby a draft brief.  Mr. Kirby reviewed it, and told Mike it was terrible.  He encouraged Mike to read Ernest Hemingway, who, per Mr. Kirby, could make a point in short, succinct sentences.  Mike took the lesson to heart.  He drafted a brief in another case.  Upon review, Mr. Kirby told Mike, “This is terrible.  It’s too terse.  When you have a strong point, you should draw it out and expand it.  You need to read Hemingway – he could take a point and run with it in long, flowing sentences.”

In 1980, Bill Kirby left the law firm to become the first General Counsel of the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation.  His departure caused a schism in the existing law firm, with nearly half of the firm’s lawyer leaving to set up their own firm.  At this juncture, Mike – as the head of the firm’s litigation practice – and the late Richard T. Zwirner (who was the firm’s primary transactional attorney) were thrust into leadership roles.  Neither had yet turned 40, and both had families with young children.  Nevertheless, Mike and Dick held the law firm together, frequently foregoing their own compensation to keep the firm alive.

The firm – known as Hubachek & Kelly from 1980 to 1983 – grew and prospered under the leadership of Mike and Dick.  Mike was able to develop a solid clientele, largely on the strength of his well-deserved reputation of one of Chicago’s top commercial and securities litigators.  Early on, Mike became the go-to Chicago lawyer for the Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, Inc. brokerage firm with respect to the defense of federal court suits brought by customers.  That relationship then expanded into the law firm’s assumption of the role of national recruiting counsel for PaineWebber Incorporated, which continued after the acquisition of PaineWebber by UBS (with the US brokerage operations then becoming UBS Financial Services).  In that capacity and others, he tried cases throughout the country.

Mike’s practice ranged from the representation of Fortune 500 companies such as Avnet, Inc., Siemens and Household Finance to small entrepreneurial enterprises and individuals, including many traders on the Chicago Board Options Exchange.  In addition to representing clients in civil litigation and arbitration, Mike also was frequently retained to represent securities broker-dealers and insurance companies in administrative, enforcement and disciplinary proceedings brought by state and federal regulators.  In the later part of his career, Mike’s practice was increasingly devoted to litigation involving trade secrets misappropriation, disputes regarding restrictive covenant contracts and employment-related issues.

Although commercial and securities litigations were the bulwark of Mike’s work, throughout his career, Mike’s practice was incredibly diverse.  For example, for many years, he acted as counsel to numerous rock bands and performers in enforcing their rights to control commercial use of their names and likenesses by precluding the sale of “bootleg” T-shirts or other merchandise at rock concerts.  He also was lead counsel in a defamation action on behalf of the founder of Chicago inner-city Little Leagues regarding the portrayal of that individual in the movie, Hardball.  Mike’s tenacity was legendary; he deposed one of the stars of that movie even though he had just incurred a head wound that had not fully healed when the deposition was taken.

Under Mike’s leadership, the law firm grew as a result of several significant mergers and combinations, beginning with the 1983 merger with a firm headed by Dan Schuyler, a preeminent trust and estates and real estate practitioner, and a long-time Professor at Northwestern University Law School.  At that point, the firm name was changed to Schuyler, Roche & Zwirner, a professional corporation.  In 1984, Norm Liebling, an experienced and well-known corporate lawyer joined the firm, and in 1989, Schuyler Roche combined with Walsh, Case & Brown.  Finally, in 2009, the 10 lawyers of Crisham & Kubes joined Schuyler Roche, resulting in the current firm name of Schuyler, Roche & Crisham, P.C.  Mike was personally instrumental in the recruitment of each of those groups to join his firm.

Mike was the antithesis of the stereotypical, stern, buttoned-down, three-piece suit wearing, humorless lawyer.  Instead, he adhered to the adage, “work hard, play hard”.  One of his principal avocations was riding his motorcycles (the last of which was a vintage BSA given to him as a birthday gift by an appreciative client).  Mike and his close, life-long friend, Phil Zera, took a motorcycle trip through Europe in their youth.  During this trip, Mike and Phil arrived at the Louvre in Paris about 30 minutes before its scheduled closing time.  Phil wanted to see the classic artwork collected in that world-renown repository; Mike couldn’t have cared less about some art museum.  Mike’s compromise was simple; he told Phil, “You take that wing, I’ll take this other wing, and we’ll meet back here in a half-hour.”  In order to generate income during his college and law-school years, Mike rented facilities and promoted rock and roll dances.  For years, Mike was an active participant in the Evanston Marching Kazoo Band – a group of friends and neighbors having no discernable musical ability or talent whatsoever – who marched in various parades while playing kazoos.

Mike’s practical jokes and antics were legendary.  He was able to convince multiple colleagues to bet on the exact score of an NCAA basketball game by telling them that the score had been revealed to him in a dream.  Because Mike often referred to his dreams, his claim seemed credible; many lawyers in his firm bit and took his bet.  The game had already been played earlier that morning, and Mike knew the final score.  He offered to rescind the bet, but collected from some who appreciated Mike’s persuasiveness and felt they deserved to pay for their own folly.

When told by a female lawyer in the firm (Mike’s sister-in-law) that he needed to get in touch with his feminine side, Mike borrowed and put on makeup and a maternity dress from another lawyer in the office.  He then summoned several colleagues to his office to discuss then-pending matters, who encountered Mike exploring his “feminine side”.  After one colleague engaged in a serious, professional discussion with Mike without commenting at all on his attire.  At the end of this meeting, that colleague said to Mike, with a straight face, “Mike, if my wife is getting rid of any of her dresses, I’ll have her keep you in mind.”

On another occasion, Mike made a bet with another of the firm’s lawyers on the Notre Dame-Michigan game; the stake was that the alum of the losing team would have to wear the other team’s football helmet the entire day.  When Notre Dame prevailed, the other lawyer was saddled with a gold helmet – which he was forced to wear outside the office when Mike treated him to lunch that day.  Mike’s sense of humor was infectious and ever-present. 

Mike loved sports.  He played baseball as part of the Notre Dame High School (Niles, Illinois) Class of 1959, on a team that advanced far in the state playoffs.  Mike later served on the Niles Notre Dame Board of Directors and was an original inductee into the school’s Hall of Honors.

Mike continued to play baseball on the Freshman Team at the University of Notre Dame, from which Mike graduated in 1963.  For years – well into his 60s – Mike lead the Hubachek-Schuyler 16-inch softball team in the Grant Park Lawyer’s League.  He served as Commission of that League for 10 years, frequently resolving disputes among competing firms/teams that were more contentious than those he encountered in his litigation practice.  Mike took great pride in the ability of his firm – one of the smallest in the league – to win multiple Lawyer’s League Championships.

When he graduated from Notre Dame in 1963 – as a member of the only class in school history that had not experienced a winning football season in any of their four years – Mike applied to and was accepted by Georgetown Law School.  However, the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School offered Mike a scholarship to continue on at Notre Dame.  Mike remained on the fence concerning whether to attend Georgetown or Notre Dame until it was announced that Notre Dame was going to hire a new football coach for the 1964 season.  This development caused Mike to flip his commitment from Georgetown to Notre Dame, where he enjoyed the early years of the Era of Ara Parseghian.

Mike remained an avid (some would say obsessive and irrational) Notre Dame fan his entire life.  One of his prized possessions, on prominent display in his office, was an oversized, autographed photo of Ara.  Mike’s entire office was a shrine to Notre Dame, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago White Sox.  Mike was so devoted to Notre Dame that one Christmas, he sought to string lights on the roof of his house to form an “ND”.  When Mike was finished, neighbors asked Mike why he had the word “NO” in lights on the top of his house.  Mike was elected as a regional representative to the Notre Dame Alumni Board and served as President and a Board Member of the Notre Dame Club of Chicago.

Mike was also known for his culinary orthodoxy.  He liked any meal, as long as it consisted of beef (preferably steak) and potatoes.  Early in his career, Mike went to dinner at a fancy restaurant with clients.  Encouraged to order quail, the specialty of the house, Mike answered, “No thanks.  I don’t like fish.”  Years later, Mike and his wife, Kathy, attended a function in the Chicago Loop.  Not having eaten, they stopped in a hotel.  The restaurant was closed, and the only fare available at the bar consisted of various Chinese appetizers that were served with a black sauce.  Forced to eat such unfamiliar food, Mike found he liked it.  He said to Kathy, “This sauce is tremendous!  What is it?”  Kathy answered, “Mike, that’s soy sauce” – something that Mike had not previously encountered.

Mike’s passing came approximately six weeks after the sudden illness and death of his wife, Kathy, to whom he was married for 47 years.  He is survived by three children and their spouses, Michael T. Roche and Megan; Kevin Roche and Laura; and Molly Roche and Dawn Walsh.  Mike had five grandchildren, Jack, Margaret, Dennis, Claire and Colin.  Mike is also survived by his sister, Kathleen “Lolly” Petrillo, as well as his brothers-and-sisters-in-law Thomas McGuire, Carol McGuire, Michael McGuire, Thomas and Shelia Hanson, Timothy and Jean Quinn, along with 16 nieces, nephews and their families.

Mike’s contributions to SRC – and to society as a whole – are beyond measure.  His ability, wisdom, judgment, counsel, humor and friendship will be missed by all who were privileged to know him.

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