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TCL > April 2012 Issue > In Memoriam

April 2012       Vol. 41, No. 4       Page  93
Notices, Products, and Services

In Memoriam

Robert S. Eberhardt, Jr.
1928–2012, age 83

Omer L. Griffin
November 15, 1920–February 27, 2012

William D. Johnson
d. January 6, 2012, age 91

David L. Michael
September 23, 1930–March 1, 2012

Robert E. Mydans
d. February 18, 2012, age 64

Matthew James Willson
March 30, 1971–February 28, 2012


Matthew James Willson


On February 28, 2012, our community lost an amazing source of energy and a very dear friend. Matt Willson was the first friend I made when I started law school. Because of Matt’s unique personality, keen insights, infectious laugh, and outrageous sense of humor, I know I am not the only person who can make that claim. He possessed an uncanny ability to move comfortably between dramatically diverse populations, building friendships along the way.

Matt was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and is survived by his adoptive parents, Sue Burger and Mike Willson; stepfather, Mike Burger; and cousins, Suzanne Schoenweiss and Tina Yoder. After overcoming the adversity of severe dyslexia during his primary education, Matt graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with an impressive 3.92 GPA. He then set out to achieve his dream of becoming a water law attorney and enrolled at the University of Denver (DU) Sturm College of Law. After earning a master of laws in natural resources, he enrolled in DU’s JD program. During law school, Matt earned many accolades and awards for his writing and academic excellence and was a staff editor on the Water Law Review.

He passed the Colorado bar exam in February 2010, and was sworn in by his friend and mentor, the Honorable Alfred Harrell, among his friends and colleagues in a private ceremony. This was certainly one of the proudest moments of Matt’s brief time with us.

From the time he was a second-year law student, Matt was active in the Rhone-Brackett Inn of Court and held various paid administrative positions with the organization. During this time, Matt became a skilled Web designer and assisted many judges and legal professionals in the community to extend their presence on the Web. He provided much technical training and support to the legal community, while delivering stunning stylistic websites. While tirelessly pursuing a permanent position in environmental and natural resources law, Matt worked alongside notable attorneys in the Denver community, expanding his skills and knowledge into other areas of law, making friends and admirers along the road.

Matt loved the outdoors and the new home he had built in Colorado. His love of the mountains and passion for nature was born out of ski trips he took with his mother in early childhood. Matt recaptured this passion in adulthood, on ski trips with friends. Matt was mechanically gifted and had a keen eye for exotic cars, remote-controlled aircraft and warships, and scale models. He enjoyed a good joke, a hearty laugh, a cold beer, a menthol cigarette, and a hot slice of pizza.

During this time of grieving, I am struck by the depth of loss experienced by so many people in our community and am overwhelmed by my own sense of loss. I recall Matt’s kindness and his gentle spirit; his ever-present smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes; and how generously he gave of himself, his time, and his resources. However, what I will miss the most is his brilliant sense of humor! I don’t believe I will ever encounter someone who will make me laugh the way Matt did.

Countless times, his spot-on, glib remarks and retorts quelled the building acrimony, and the laughter he created during an impassioned debate broke the tension, allowing civility to return to conversations. With a quick mind and wit, he dissected inconsistencies in statements and turned them on their heads in a genial and good-natured way. This is a gift the world needs and so many lawyers lack.

Matt was strong in his convictions and his desire to make things better. He was unapologetic about who he was and the things for which he stood. He bore the battle scars from decades of fighting to define himself on his own terms; he never allowed others to take that right from him. He defended his beliefs with courage, skill, and humanity like few could. Matt had the heart of a lion in battle. However, that heart proved too fragile to carry his giant spirit beyond his 42nd year of life. Matt recently was diagnosed with a very serious heart condition. He lost his final battle—peacefully, in his sleep at home.

The lives of all who knew Matt are forever changed and enriched for having raised a glass, laughed a laugh, or kicked some ass with our friend. Matt, I am proud to have been your friend and I am grateful for all you taught and shared with me—it was just too brief.

I love you!

—Submitted by Rory L. Francis


The In Memoriam section lists the name, date of birth where available, and date of death of deceased attorneys, JDs, judges, and legal professionals. Reader-submitted tributes of deceased attorneys and legal professionals, including those listed at the top of the In Memoriam section, are welcomed. Tributes should provide information about the deceased’s legal career. Photographs are encouraged. Tributes will be published as space is available and as the publication schedule allows. Send tributes and notices about recently deceased attorneys to Tracy Rackauskas at

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