Nancy G. Merrill, QC
June 27, 2019

This entry is the first in what will be an ongoing series focused on, and featuring, lawyers who do great deeds, often without recognition for them

One of my favourite novels is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Written in 1961, we know it as the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of justice in the Jim Crow American South. Told from the perspective of the main character Scout, she watches as the events surrounding her father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a small town, unfold around her.

Made into a movie starring Gregory Peck, with that quiet cameo of Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, it is a riveting piece of modern American cinema, not just for the cast of talented actors throughout, but for the way it puts us into the story as we see the battle to maintain what is human in a struggle against anger, the stampede to judgment and social pressure at tremendous cost. We know it would be easier for Atticus to just step away but, at the same time, we don’t want him to do so. We want him to win against the odds. For Scout, for us as the readers or viewers of the movie, we know that Atticus is the unsung hero.

The character that Harper Lee creates draws from the fact that he is a lawyer. It is the depth and complexity of this character that we try to resolve. He is a small-town lawyer. That, in itself, is the starting point for endless negative stereotypes in song, print and cinema. Perhaps if he was left alone and if he didn’t feel that need to get involved, we would never hear of Atticus. However, we get to know Atticus through his deeds and through his words. In chapter 20 he tells us:

“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal — there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country, our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts, all men are created equal.”

Many of us as lawyers, draw our inspiration through literary characters like Atticus and the real life heroes that we meet. We struggle and we hope to do justice against the odds. We want to do what is right. We don’t seek the fame and the adulation of the community. The result is self-evident for those of us to achieve precisely that, very little notice, if any at all, of our efforts, our deeds, our victories and our struggles to find justice.

I want to try to move some of that struggle and accomplishment into a more public sphere. Obviously, I can’t possibly reflect on all of the many heroic things that, from my perspective as the President of the Law Society, I see British Columbia’s lawyers doing every day. I do want to start to redress some of that silence by trying to share the stories of our unsung heroes. I know I can’t name them all. I just want to start to name some of the unsung heroes I have come to know.

Bob Bellows is a UBC grad from the class of 1974. He articled with Peter Fraser and Mike Harcourt. He credits his father for instilling within him a belief that you give people a helping hand. His mother was inspirational with her passionate involvement in social justice.

Bob cut his teeth on law school community clinics and he worked the downtown eastside of Vancouver in summers doing legal clinics and anti-poverty law. He has been both a Board member and the Chair of Community Legal Assistance and he is currently a director of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers. He was on the Board of Directors of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program during the 1990s with Art Vertlieb and His Honour, Judge Russ McKay. Thirty years sober, he helps lawyers with emotional and substance issues. His legal practice has been predominantly legal aid and at the age of 73 he can often be seen four to five days a week at the courthouse at 222 Main Street where judges describe him as always pleasant and a welcome presence in court.

Still working tirelessly with clients battling substance issues, helping their families, seeking recovery homes and helping them into personal recovery, his “wish list” is to have the community support what he calls “detox on demand” and to have legal aid lawyers compensated for all the work they do, as well as improving the conditions in corrections and in custody so we can help people heal.

Bob says it’s the success stories that keep him going. The best compliments come from his clients and the quotes include:

“Mr. Bellows is a fantastic lawyer and he helped me in my recovery.” 

Robert Bellows is one of the many real-life, unsung heroes we are fortunate to have as practising lawyers in our communities in British Columbia.