Cook On Concord: William S. Green, New Hampshire hero

William S. Green, prominent Manchester attorney and civic leader, died Oct. 22 after a long and courageous struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 89 years old. Of all of the great people with whom I have been lucky enough to be associated in my career, Bill Green was the greatest.

Bill Green’s legal career started in private practice in Concord, but soon he was recruited by Attorney General William L. Phinney and Gov. Sherman Adams to become New Hampshire’s first deputy attorney general. In that post, he and Phinney engaged in many legal cases, most notably the euthanasia prosecution of Dr. Herman Sander, a case that won national recognition. At the time, Bill Green was reported to have been the youngest prosecutor to lead a murder case in the United States.

After Governor Adams went to Washington to serve as Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Phinney returned to private practice in Manchester with John J. Sheehan and Perkins Bass. Phinney recruited Bill Green to come and form the firm that then became Sheehan, Phinney, Bass & Green.

Had Green not joined the firm, it probably would have stayed a small, quality litigation firm. He led the law firm from 1952 to his retirement just after the turn of the millennium and made it one of the largest and most multi-faceted in northern New England.

Bill and his wife Joan, and their three children, Bill, Nancy and Richard, lived in and contributed to the Manchester community. His family, firm and community were his three passions.

Bill Green was involved in a host of civic activities. He led the Community Chest, which later became the United Way, on several occasions. The Heritage United Way now awards the William S. Green award periodically when it has a recipient worthy of the honor. Getting involved with the Elliot Hospital, he led its board, its progress and growth throughout his career. The William S. Green Award at the Elliot Hospital is its highest honor.

In 1952, he was approached by a young widow who ran a proprietary school known as New Hampshire College of Accounting and Commerce. At her request, he analyzed the books and told Gertrude Shapiro that if she wanted to keep the place open after her husband Harry’s death, he would help. He chaired the board of that institution, oversaw its conversion to a not-for-profit institution known as New Hampshire College, served as chancellor of the institution during an interim period of crisis and encouraged its growth and transition into what is now Southern New Hampshire University. He served on many boards of directors, including the fledgling Leadership New Hampshire program, was president of Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester, an institution founded by his grandfather among others, and never turned down the opportunity or duty to serve in a fund-raising capacity to better his community.

In 1960, Bill Green was named Manchester’s Citizen of the Year, the youngest person ever to receive that honor, before or since.


All of these accomplishments do not measure the greatness of the man. Bill Green was one of the most intense people anyone ever met. He also brought the highest sense of ethics and “right and wrong” to everything he did. Indeed, whether in charitable work, civic affairs or his law firm it was the integrity with which he led institutions and not the institutions he led that will be his legacy.

Bill Green’s legacy also extends to those he inspired. At his memorial service, U.S. Sen. Warren B. Rudman credited Green with setting him on the right track, persuading his father to let him go to law school and convincing Rudman to run for the U.S. Senate in 1980. Kimon Zachos, noted Manchester attorney, also credited Bill Green with having shaped his career. The late Jim Freedman, former president of Dartmouth College, always credited Green with being his role model when Friedman grew up in Manchester and Bill Green was a young attorney in town.

There are scores of others, including this writer, who could tell the same story.

In 1972, I was lucky enough to be hired as a summer associate at Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green. One day Bill Green told me that I was to go to a certain car dealership the next day, pick up an automobile and drive to Boston, where I would meet a lawyer coming in from a prestigious Chicago law firm and drive him to Manchester, where he was to negotiate with Mr. Green.

The Chicago lawyer, full of vim and vigor, obviously thought he was going to the country to show the locals something or other. I brought the lawyer to Mr. Green’s office. It turns out he had come to Manchester to explain to Mr. Green that his client was not going to pay a large debt owed to Mr. Green’s client. Shortly thereafter, intense discussions could be heard from Bill’s office in the northeast corner office on the 18th floor of Hampshire Plaza. After a couple of hours, Mr. Green came into the library where I was working, told me that the lawyer was ready to go back to Boston and I should bring the car around. When the lawyer got into the car, he reclined the seat, stared at the sun visor all the way to Boston, saying nothing.

When we got to the curb at his airline terminal, he turned to me and said, “Young man, I only have one piece of advice for you. Go to work for that man.” He then got out of the car and went on his way. The check came in the next mail.

Thank goodness I was lucky enough to be able to follow the Chicago lawyer’s advice and go to work for that man, William S. Green. That has made all the difference.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.