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Former ISBA president Rabb Emison dies

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The state legal community is saying goodbye to a past Indiana State Bar Association president who was a pivotal part of promoting diversity within the profession.

Retired Vincennes attorney Ewing Rabb Emison Jr., 85, died Wednesday morning.

Serving as ISBA president from 1986 to 1987, Emison is most widely known for his work on expanding diversity for the organization and legal community. His efforts led to the creation of what is now the Racial Diversity in the Legal Profession committee to promote the employment and advancement of minority lawyers. The association created the Rabb Emison award in his honor and gives it each year to an attorney who best serves the goal of assisting minority lawyers, and in 2003 he received an American Bar Association honor for his contributions.

“He was one of those unsung heroes for minority lawyers and getting more participation for the ISBA,” said the association’s first African-American president Rod Morgan, who is an attorney at Bingham McHale and finishes his term next month. “He was a mentor, fine lawyer, and a friend. He was on the cutting edge of things as far as diversity, and Rabb was always there as a champion.”

A 1950 graduate of what is now the Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, Emison began practicing with his father, Ewing Emison, that year. His entire career was with the firm now known as Emison Doolittle Kolb & Roellgen in Vincennes.

He comes from a line of attorneys, following in the footsteps of his father Ewing as well as his grandfather James Wade Emison – neither of which attended law school. Rabb Emison was also the last descendant in Knox County of a pioneer family that arrived in 1804, establishing a mill in Busseron Township and part of a small committee who’d selected Indianapolis as the site for the state capitol.

Emison’s obituary notes that he was most proud of his family history in that he, his father, and grandfather had all prepared and lobbied for legislation for the community. Emison had authored legislation on flood control, conservation, aviation, and historic preservation through the years.

He was interviewed by Evansville attorney Wesley Bowers for part of an ISBA oral history project. That transcript was made available to the ISBA and the Indiana Historical Society, where members of the public can view it and other oral history interview transcripts. Bowers’ interview topics involving Emison included his three stints in the Navy – 1942, 1952, and 1962 – and about his father and grandfather being attorneys even though they didn't go to law school.

Emison also was known for the more than 50 columns he had written for “Res Gestae” during and after his time as ISBA president. In his interview with Bowers, Emison said his columns were not so much about the law but about the behavior of attorneys who practice it. The columns were recently compiled into a book that he self-published and that the ISBA helps distribute.

Past president Bill Jonas in South Bend said, “Rabb Emison was a terrific lawyer, a gifted writer, and a dynamic leader. His efforts with the ISBA, especially in the advocacy of greater diversity, were truly remarkable. He embodied all the best of what it means to be an Indiana lawyer. On top of this, he was as fine a man as I have ever known. You could always count on Rabb for a wonderful story … usually one that illustrated in his uniquely Hoosier way the point he was making with you as he gently persuaded you to do what was right.”

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Kathleen, and his daughters Susan Emison of Louisville and Anne Emison Wishard (Gordon) of Indianapolis.

Funeral services are at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Goodwin Funeral Home in Vincennes, and online condolences can be made at www.goodwinfamilyfh.com. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Grouseland Foundation, 3 W. Scott St., Vincennes, IN 47591, or online at grouselandfoundation.org for an endowment to sustain the mansion.
 

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