Bar News - September 20, 2017
In Memoriam: Bartram Chase Branch, Merrimack, NH
‘Bart Branch Becomes First Non-Prominent Lawyer to Die’
His legendary sense of humor intact till the end, Bartram Branch announced that since every attorney, no matter how obscure, is identified as prominent upon their death, he wanted to officially be the first non-prominent lawyer to die. Despite his self-deprecating humor, his life, personally and professionally, was indeed one of prominence. He died July 25, 2017, in Merrimack. He was 91.
Branch was the son of the late honorable Oliver W. Branch, former Chief of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and his wife Isabelle (Hogle) Branch. Educated locally, Branch graduated from Central High School in Manchester early at age 16, due in part to his talent for scoring well on multiple-choice tests. “One should always be able to find the right answer when it’s given to you,” he once remarked.
After graduation, Branch lied about his age and enlisted in the Merchant Marine, serving in the European war theater. He volunteered to serve on a “checker board” crew, meaning one that was desegregated. This presaged his vigorous interest in the Civil Rights movement. He later served two years in the United States Air Force, including duty as a tail gunner on a B-24 with the 15th Air Force during the Italian and German campaigns. He successfully flew 50 missions. Given the death rate among those serving on B-24s, this was quite an accomplishment. The exploits of Branch and his fellow service members, including former Senator George McGovern, are described in the documentary, “On the Wing,” which PBS often airs on Memorial Day.
Branch’s WWII service awoke him to the horrors of war. He was particularly sensitive to the notion that bombing campaigns can be ruthless and indiscriminate. His personal experience led him to become a vocal and active opponent of the Vietnam War. He was most proud of co-chairing the Eugene McCarthy campaign in its run against President Lyndon Johnson. As a lifelong Democrat, it was difficult to co-chair a campaign against a sitting democratic president, but he took solace in the fact that McCarthy’s surprising showing in the New Hampshire Primary expedited the process of ending the war in Vietnam.
Branch was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire where he did a year of undergraduate work at the American University of Beirut in Beirut, Lebanon. Following graduation, it was suggested that he become one of the first class of law school applicants to take the Law School Admission Test. Upon scoring first in the country on that new multiple-choice test, he was admitted to Harvard Law School and described himself as out of his league. He eventually graduated, but made sure people knew he was second-to-last in his class.
He worked as an associate at what became the Wiggin & Nourie law firm, and was then invited to be a partner in the firm that became Devine, Millimet, Stahl and Branch. For marketing purposes, the firm is well known as Devine Millimet, but the legal name of the firm continues to be Devine Millimet & Branch. Although Branch appreciated the fact that the massive granite sign outside the firm’s downtown Manchester office continued to bear his name, he speculated that the cost of removing it might have been a factor.
Branch served the City of Manchester as a school board member, a former president of the Manchester Y Men’s Club, a member of the Calumet Club, and a clerk of the Brookside Congregational Church.
In memory of our colleague, the New Hampshire Bar Association Board of Governors has made a contribution to the NH Bar Foundation.