WILLIAM MATTESON

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  • "Bill had 360 degree vision with a beam to help his friends,..."
    - Douglas Worth
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    - Andrew Hartzell
  • "Bill was a devoted member of the American Cathedral in..."
    - The Very Rev Ernest Hunt
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    - Ben Sisson
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Obituary

MATTESON--William Bleecker.

1928-2015. Everything in our father's life was carefully planned: right down to the way he died. We were assembled at West Point Military Academy for our uncle's interment on May 8th, 2015. The weather was beautiful, the church service was profound, and the soldiers were impressive and with their rifles and flag-folding and their gratitude for our uncle's service to our country. It was all very moving and maybe a bit too much for our aging father. He enjoyed a lively dinner with us, then stayed up exchanging animated stories with his sister about their childhood. When he went to bed on Friday, he had a smile on his face. Sadly, he never woke up. William Bleecker Matteson was born in 1928 and grew up in Mount Vernon, NY. He graduated from The Peddie School in 1946 and Yale University in 1950, and married Marilee Brill three months later. It was the beginning of a lifelong love story. He graduated from Harvard Law School as a member of the Harvard Law Review in 1953 and for the next two years, he clerked for The Honorable Augustus N. Hand in the Federal Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit in New York City and Justice Harold H. Burton in the United States Supreme Court. He joined the Debevoise law firm in 1955 and became a partner in 1961. He headed the Paris office of Debevoise from 1973 to 1976. He was presiding partner of the firm from 1988 to 1993. What was so great about Bill? Unlike a lot of powerful business executives today, he knew how to balance his career and his family life. He raised us in New York City so he could eat breakfast and dinner with us and still put in a full day at the office. He didn't want to waste time commuting out to the suburbs like his father did. His friendships were deep and often with other "giants" in the law profession. After our mother was in a devastating car accident in 1968, he promised that if she recovered fully from her countless fractures, they would live life to its fullest. In 1973, we moved to Paris, where we spent three unforgettable years. Bill was one of the leading corporate lawyers of his generation. He handled a lot of high-profile, interesting cases. He used to say that each one felt like a whole new job and he was always excited to tackle it. In 1979, he got a call while we were on vacation: Chrysler was about to go bankrupt, and could he become their lead attorney in the first bailout during the time of the Loan Guarantee Act in 1980. Lee Iacocca was so impressed with Bill's work that he asked him to join the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, a private-sector effort to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Bill had three daughters who grew up in the 1970s, and he began to understand the importance of women in the workplace. He was known to mentor young female lawyers at his law firm. One of his mantras was "make your clients your friends and your friends your clients." He was a consummate client developer who worked to understand the people he represented and their businesses. He also lectured at Columbia Law School from 1971 to 1980, except for the years we lived in Paris. He truly believed in the law and we never saw him do anything dishonest, except when he pretended he didn't speak French to get out of a traffic ticket in Paris. Over the years, Bill was active in the International Bar Association and the Bar Association of New York. He served on several boards, including the French-American Foundation, The Hartford Foundation, The Salk Institute, The Board of Foreign Parishes, The Sconset Trust, The New York Institute for Special Education, The Peddie School, Miss Porter's School and Kalamazoo College. A particular interest of his was the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), where he served as a Vice Chairman from 1986 to 1999, focusing on key issues of world trade, finance and investments as the U.S. representative on the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation in Paris (BIAC). We recently received an email from an old friend: "I heard about your Dad, but have no idea what to say. I planned for Bill to live forever." So did we. But in his own special way, his exit was as dignified as his life and career had been. To have spent his last day at his sister's side with the amazingly beautiful backdrop of West Point in spring, it might've just been his plan. Bill Matteson is survived by his wife of almost 65 years: Marilee; his sister: Anne Sisson; his three daughters and their spouses: Lynn Matteson and John Hoops, Sandra and Perry Helm, Holly and Marshall Pagon; and three grandchildren: William Matteson, and Willow and Samuel Pagon. In lieu of flowers: please send donations in his name to the Sconset Trust, PO Box 821, Siasconset, MA 02564 for conservation efforts on Nantucket Island, "his emotional home." A service is planned there later this summer.

Published in The New York Times on May 17, 2015
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