Harold Rock PassingNews | November 7, 2018
Harold L. Rock, one of the founders of the law firm, died in Omaha on November 4, 2018 after a brief illness. He was 86.
Along with Robert J. Kutak and William G. Campbell, Mr. Rock established the firm in Omaha on January 11, 1965. Over more than 50 years, the firm grew from its small beginning to its current size, with 18 offices and more than 540 lawyers.
Mr. Rock married Marilyn Clark, a nurse, in 1954. The union produced six children: Michael, Susan, John, Patrick, Michele and Thomas. The Rocks’ children have given them 14 grandchildren.
After graduating from Creighton University in 1954, Mr. Rock joined the U.S. Army Infantry as an officer trainee, but within two years decided on a law career. He enrolled in Creighton University School of Law in 1956 and received his degree in 1959.
Mr. Rock clerked for the Honorable Joseph W. Woodrough, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, from 1959 to 1960. He was an associate at the Omaha firm of Fitzgerald, Hamer, Brown & Leahy for five years.
In late 1964, Harold Rock, Bob Kutak and Bill Campbell agreed to open their own law practice—without a client to their name. In January 1965, they leased a small office on the sixth floor of the Omaha National Bank Building (now The Omaha Building) and hired a legal secretary.
Members of the firm have long observed that the partnership was a blending of complementary temperaments. While Bob Kutak was a restless visionary and Bill Campbell was a hard-charging litigator, both of whom constantly pushed to expand the firm, Harold Rock’s more affable style provided the necessary ballast to their approaches. Mr. Rock’s charm, humor and benevolent manner also lifted morale in a demanding work environment.
Mr. Kutak died in 1983 at the age of 50, and Mr. Campbell left the firm in 1992, leaving Mr. Rock as the sole link to the firm’s earliest days. He also became the caretaker of the cultural values that the founders articulated in their charter: a commitment to excellent service, mutual respect for all lawyers and staff, no discrimination in hiring and promotion, the enrichment of intellectual life within the firm, and support of projects that benefit society.
Mr. Rock’s career embodied such cultural values. As a member of the American Bar Association, he served on the Board of Governors for several years in the 1990s, had three stints as a member of the House of Delegates, served on several committees and participated in various special forums and task forces.
He was also a prominent figure in Omaha’s local legal community and the state bar association. At various times he was President of the Omaha Bar Association and the Nebraska State Bar Association, Director of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation and Chairman of the Nebraska Board of Bar Examiners. He also served as Chairman of the Nebraska Indigent Defense Task Force and President of the Omaha Legal Aid Society. In 2010 the Omaha Bar Association presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his “exemplary service to the profession, support and service to the Omaha Bar Association, innovative contributions to improving justice, and longstanding commitment to mentoring in the law.”
Mr. Rock served on the boards of numerous other law-related entities and on the boards of such charitable and civic organizations as the Public Service Challenge, the United Way of the Midlands, the Douglas County Historical Society, the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival and the Nebraska Humanities Council, among others. He was also Chairman Emeritus of the Robert J. Kutak Foundation.
Longtime firm members recall the “anniversary memos” that Mr. Rock would send to the entire firm every January 11, a practice he started on the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1990 and kept up for many years. The memos of Father Harold, as he came to be known within the firm, were short essays that expressed his sincere appreciation for the lawyers and staff members who were building on Kutak Rock’s hard-won reputation as an outstanding law firm. The memos included sparkling displays of Mr. Rock’s wry take on the world and cemented his longstanding status as a much beloved and unifying force at Kutak Rock.
On the occasion of Kutak Rock’s fiftieth anniversary in 2015, the firm produced a commemorative video. Harold and Marilyn Rock narrated a look back at the firm’s first half century, with an emphasis on the early years. Their entertaining reminiscences struck the perfect note as the firm celebrated the milestone.
Jay Selanders, Chair of Kutak Rock, offered this testimonial: “Harold not only helped establish the law firm but contributed greatly to its long-term reputation and success. We’ll especially remember his wit and style. There will never be another Harold.”
John Musselman, a former partner of the firm who joined Kutak Rock in 1969, remembered Mr. Rock’s genuine interest in the people of the firm:
It was clear that Harold cared about everybody. If he stopped by your office to say ‘Hi,’ it was a good day and he made you feel good.
A man of extraordinary talents and character, Harold Rock showed uncommon warmth and good humor to all he met. We were fortunate to have had him with us for many years.