Attorney Gill Garman, husband of chief justice, dies; colleagues remember him as "family man"

By Bethany Krajelis | Jun 2, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman’s husband has died.

Gill M. Garman, a senior partner at Kesler Nelson Garman Brougher & Townsley P.C. in Danville, died Saturday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, according to his obituary and a Monday news release form the court. He was 71.

Not only was Gill known for helping Garman reach the center seat behind the state high court bench with more than five-decades worth of encouragement and support, something she routinely thanked him for during public speeches, but he made a name for himself as a skilled and respected attorney.

Gill spent more than 45 years practicing law. He was most recently affiliated with the Kesler Nelson firm in Danville, where he did estate planning, probate, trust and estate, hospital, elder and guardianship work.

His practice, according to the firm’s website, took him before the state’s appellate courts, as well as to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Claims, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

He “was a proud lawyer who was committed to his clients and to the highest standards,” according to his obit on the Sunset Funeral Home’s website that went on to say “Gill was respected by his many friends, and will be missed for his intellect, strength of character, and his sense of humor.”

William Townsley, an attorney at the Kesler Nelson firm, said Gill’s designation as a “top-notch” lawyer was secondary to his role as “a great guy and family man.”

“He was one of the most wonderful human beings you’d ever want to know,” said Townsley, who met Gill more than 40 years ago through their involvement in community groups and charity work.

Townsley said he started working with Gill after taking Garman’s place at the practice following her appointment to the bench. He said his working relationship with Gill couldn’t have been better, but stressed that Gill was so much more than just “one of the best lawyers” in Danville.

Gill’s love for Garman was obvious, and Townsley said his adoration for his family just couldn’t be ignored. Townsley said Gill “always talked” about his and Garman’s two children and bragged about their three grandchildren, saying that family pictures “are all over the place” in the Garmans’ home.

Born May 18, 1943 in Urbana, Gill graduated from Urbana High School in 1961 and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois in 1965. It was there, in a labor economics class at the U of I, where he met Garman, “began a courtship and fell in love,” according to his obituary.

The two went on to attend law school together at the University of Iowa and were married in 1967. Following their graduations, the couple moved to Danville to start their legal careers.

Garman was only one of five women in her law school class of 100 and frequently faced questions over why, as a woman at that time, she wanted to be  lawyer. She previously said, “I was told: ‘You know you’ll never practice law. You’re just here to catch a husband.”

She may have ended up “catching” Gill, although the two found each before their law school journey began, but Garman never missed the opportunity to thank her husband for his love and encouragement.

During speeches to new lawyers she has given as a Supreme Court justice, Garman has stressed the important role loved ones play in a lawyer’s career using Gill and her family as examples. She gushed over his support last year at ceremony installing her as the state's second female chief justice.

Barbara Passman, who serves as Townsley’s legal assistant, said she’ll never forget Garman saying “Gill was her rock” at last year's ceremony.

Even though she endured the loss of two husbands, Passman said she can’t imagine what Garman is going through now. Gill, Passman said, gave the eulogy at the funeral of her last husband.

She said Gill had a knack for people and talked to everyone, whether it was a high-profile client or someone who walked in off the street carrying a backpack. And, she said, he always chatted with people in a way that made “you feel like you were his friend.”

“He was close to everybody. It was just the way he was,” Passman said, adding that “Gill’s clients thought he was wonderful. Everybody did. He was just a wonderful person.”

Like Townsley, Passman said Gill’s love for his family was one of his most recognizably characteristics. She said he was proud of his family and always sent her a Garman family picture when the new year came around.

Gill was “a devoted husband, loving father and grandfather, caring friend and a true gentleman,” according to his obit. He leaves behind his wife as she approaches her second year of her three-year term as chief justice, their two children, Sara Ellen Doyle and Andrew Gill Garman, their three grandchildren who “adored their ‘Pop,’" and numerous friends and colleagues.

In his obit, the Garman family thanked “all of those who reached out to our family in special ways during our long journey,” as well as Dr. Brij Sodhi and his staff for their care of Gill over the years. The obit notes that Gill “was a two-time organ transplant recipient” and that Sodhi “saved Gill’s life on a number of occasions.”

Outside of his tight-knit family and the legal profession, Gill was active in Danville Rotary and served on several boards and committees, including with the Danville Public Library, the Presence United Samaritans Foundation, and was a Director of First Savings Bank. He was also a member of St. James United Methodist Church, the Danville Country Club and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

Gill’s visitation will be from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Sunset Funeral Home and his funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. James United Methodist Church, both in Danville.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests in his obit to donate to St. James United Methodist Church, the Danville Public Library Foundation, the Danville Symphony Orchestra, or any charity of the donor's choosing.

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