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William H. “Bill” Fortune, who died January 29, 2024, at age 83, had an indelible impact on the legal profession in Kentucky and the City of Lexington through his lengthy career as a professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law and a lifetime of service to his community.

“Bill Fortune was such a gracious and welcoming person to new faculty. I recall that he took the time to organize hikes and bicycle trips to introduce me to fellow faculty and members of the Bar when I first moved to Lexington,” UK Rosenberg Law Professor Paul E. Salamanca said. “He also took me to Frankfort and introduced me to the attorney general at the time, the public advocate at the time, and people at the Kentucky Bar Association. Later, he lent me tools so I could participate in a build for Habitat for Humanity. I can also remember working on a build with him.”

For Salamanca, Fortune’s helpfulness did not stop there but continued through the years.

“He went with me to help me pick out an engagement ring for my wife,” Salamanca said. “In fact, only a week before his passing, I was asking him about the Kentucky rules of evidence!”

UK Rosenberg Law Dean Mary J. Davis said she appreciated Fortune’s optimistic spirit as he regularly checked in with her and others throughout the law building.

“Bill Fortune was relentlessly positive and optimistic,” Davis said. “He saw the best in us. As dean, I appreciated Bill’s regular, supportive check-ins. He always had a way of making your day.”

A Lexington native, Fortune majored in history at UK before earning a juris doctor from the College of Law in 1964. After a five-year stint in private practice, Fortune embarked in 1969 on a 43-year career as a law professor at UK, specializing in criminal procedure and ethics. A

Professor Emeritus, Fortune continued to teach as an adjunct following his retirement in 2012, the same year he was inducted into the UK College of Law Alumni Hall of Fame.

In the classroom, Fortune excelled at instilling his students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed within the legal profession. He was honored with UK’s Great Teacher Award in 2001.  Alumni described him as “brilliant and beloved.” 

Outside the classroom, Fortune took on many roles at UK and beyond the university. Fortune twice was associate dean of the College of Law and was UK Academic Ombudsman and University Senate Chair. He also was the first president of the Central Kentucky Legal Services

Corporation and on three occasions took leaves from the College of Law to provide legal services to the indigent, serving as a federal public defender in California and Kentucky and as an assistant public advocate in Eastern Kentucky.

Fortune wrote several books, including “On the Bench” and “Call Me Mac,” the latter a biography of U.S. District Judge Mac Swinford, and “The Man from Whitman Creek,” a biography of his law faculty colleague and lifelong friend, Robert G. Lawson. 

Robert G. “Bob” Lawson, a Rosenberg College of Law Professor Emeritus and former dean who both attended law school and worked with Fortune, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that his late colleague would have a lasting impact.

“He’s going to leave an unbelievable legacy. He spent his whole life trying to help people,” Lawson told the newspaper.  Fortune and Lawson worked together in the 1980s to re-write the Kentucky rules of evidence.  Those rules continue to be in use today. 

Bill Fortune showed an unmatched commitment to some of the most crucial obligations of the legal profession throughout his life.  He was the first president of the Central Kentucky Legal Services Corporation, served as a member of Kentucky’s Public Advocacy Commission, and three times took leave from the Rosenberg College of Law to provide legal services to the indigent.  He served the commonwealth’s lawyers like very few lawyers have.  He served as a member of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct Committee, as counsel for the Ethics Committee of the Kentucky Judiciary, and through more presentations on legal ethics than one can count.

Fortune was active in many community organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army of Central Kentucky, Meals on Wheels, ITNBluegrass, the Kentucky Theatre, and Second Presbyterian Church.  Fortune was particularly passionate about the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign and often recruiting volunteers to ring the bells during the holiday season.

UK Rosenberg Law Professor Emeritus Alvin Goldman described Fortune’s “generosity, kindness, compassion, and amiability,” saying those were the first words that came to mind when he thought of Fortune.

“We join the entire community in missing him,” Goldman said.

Fortune is survived by his wife Beverly, daughter Sarah, son Will, and five grandchildren.