This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Spring 2023 (Vol. 92, No. 1), pp. 69–70.
Donald Hay (“Don”) Funk, former chair of NCBE’s Board of Trustees (2007–2008) and former Secretary-Treasurer and General Counsel of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, passed away on March 2, 2023. Regina Kwan Peterson, former Director of Administration for the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, offers the following tribute to Don. (Peterson came out of retirement in December 2022 to serve for a few months as interim Director; she was serving in that capacity at the time of Funk’s passing.)By Regina Kwan Peterson
When news spread in the Illinois bar admissions office that Don had passed away on March 2, the full array of feelings were on display—sadness at the loss of a good friend; gratitude for the 33 years Don dedicated to shepherding Illinois bar admissions into a new era; affection in remembering a man who was gentle, humble, and kind; a sense of inevitability that with Don gone, the torch truly had passed from one generation to the next. We moved the “What Would Don Do” sign, a symbol of our reverence for the man, from an office hallway to a place of prominence in the conference room.
I met Don in 1998, the year I became a bar exam essay grader. Then director Jane Hefti explained that Don, who had been a member of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar since 1981, was unique in his role as the only permanent member of the Board. While other Board members would come and go as their terms expired, Don was entrusted by the Illinois Supreme Court to be the institution’s steady hand, the person the Court could turn to when it needed a wider lens on bar admissions.
Years later, I had the pleasure of working alongside Don when I became director. By then, Don had been on the Board for nearly three decades. He had recently completed his service on the NCBE Board of Trustees, having been elected to the Board in 2000 and culminating in his year as chair from 2007 to 2008. He also served on several NCBE committees, including as chair of the Editorial Advisory Committee, which evaluated articles for this very magazine. Ever proud of his native Springfield, during his term as chair, Don hosted the Board of Trustees for dinner at the exquisite Dana Thomas House, known for being one of the best-preserved and most complete of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes. Those fortunate enough to attend experienced a singularly special treat. Don regarded that event as a highlight of his tenure.
Don was a study in contradictions. Anyone who knew him would agree that he was quiet, shy, and retiring—definitely not one to be out front, part of the vanguard. But Don was an extraordinarily good listener with equal powers of observation. In a room full of people eager to talk, Don would listen, synthesize, and see the big picture. As a big-picture thinker, he sometimes found himself pushing for change while also trying to stay out of the limelight. In the 2000s, Don was an early and steadfast proponent of the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). His reputation and gravitas influenced his colleagues on the Illinois Board to become early supporters as well. Starting in 2010, the unanimous Board hoped Illinois would become an early adopter of the UBE, but that was not to be. Don rarely expressed dismay; however, when he retired in 2014 and Illinois still had not adopted the UBE, he did allow a glimmer of disappointment to show through. When Illinois finally became a UBE jurisdiction in 2018, Don was thrilled.
Given his predilections, it is easy to think of Don as having been ensconced solely in the bar admissions world, but, of course, he had a full life outside of it. For over 30 years, he was a principal in the Springfield firm Van Meter, Oxtoby & Funk, specializing in banking, estates, and trusts. He was a descendant of the renowned Funk family, some of the earliest pioneers who settled in central Illinois, and of the Hay family, some of the most renowned jurists in Illinois history, with both families having ties to Abraham Lincoln. Don, along with his wife Dee, spent years active in the preservation of the Lincoln archives. He was also a gentleman farmer, who would occasionally be called to the field in a midday emergency. An enthusiastic Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Blues fan, Don was, most of all, an adoring husband, father, and grandfather.
A few years ago, I visited Don in the hospital, where he was having a minor procedure. In his room, mounted to the wall, was a chart he could use to rate his happiness on a scale from 1 (unhappy frowny face) to 10 (happy smiley face). I asked Don where he was on the happiness scale that day. He looked surprised and said, “I’m a 10. I’m always a 10.” Don, that is how I will always remember you.
Regina Kwan Peterson served as the Director of Administration for the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar from 2010 to 2017.
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