Remembering George Hanna and thinking about civics

On Sept. 16, another prominent New Hampshirite of the greatest generation passed away. George R. Hanna, a Keene lawyer for more than half a century, died after a long illness at the age of 91.

A fixture in Keene and New Hampshire legal circles, Hanna was involved in the life of his community as a leader in civic and educational associations. He represented many prominent individuals and institutions in Cheshire County and throughout New Hampshire and participated in some of the most interesting litigation of his era.

More importantly, Hanna was a kind and gentle man with a great sense of humor. He served on the board of the University of New Hampshire, before it was the University System of New Hampshire, at a time when much of the growth of that institution was taking place. He helped guide the transition to the present structure with skill and grace.

An athlete in his youth, Hanna was known for his baseball prowess both in high school and at Dartmouth College, from which he was graduated. He played baseball with other prominent New Hampshire attorneys, the late William S. Green and Stanley Brown. That must have been some squad!

His legal career began in 1948, and he argued many cases at the New Hampshire Supreme Court. A proud Democrat, he served as a delegate to the 1960 Democratic convention that nominated John F. Kennedy in Los Angeles.

Hanna is succeeded in the legal profession in New Hampshire by two prominent attorneys of the same name, daughter Kate Hanna, former counsel to Gov. John Lynch, chair of Gov. Jeanne Shaheen’s Judicial Selection Committee and partner at Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green in Manchester, and Thomas Hanna, a noted practitioner in Keene.

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Manchester held its municipal primary on Sept. 15. Those few voters who participated narrowed the field for the November election which is a significant one for the state, signaling as it will a change in direction for the state’s largest city. Predictably, State Sen. and Alderman Ted Gatsas led the field with slightly under half of the votes. In an interesting contest for second place, Alderman Mark Roy defeated former state Sen. Bobby Stephen, who may have been better known but apparently was less organized.

Roy ostensibly was the candidate of the Democratic Party in this non-partisan election and Gatsas was the candidate of the Republicans.

As has been noted in this column often before, what happens in Manchester has an effect on all of New Hampshire given the city’s relations with the surrounding community and importance to the state.

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In a very interesting initial meeting, a group assembled by the Supreme Court Society of New Hampshire, the Civics Outcome Task Force, met Sept. 16 at Franklin Pierce Law Center. Chaired by Franklin Pierce Law Center’s president and dean, John Hutson and Colby-Sawyer College President Thomas C. Galligan, himself a former dean of the University of Tennessee Law School, brought notable New Hampshirites together to attempt to come up with guidelines and principals for a civics curriculum for the public schools in grades 1 through 12.

The task force appears to be former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter’s re-entry into the public scene in New Hampshire, and his comments were noted in the press. He has given well-reported public addresses on the need for civics education.

The range of members on the Task Force goes from New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks to the commissioner of education, former commissioner of education, superintendent of schools in Concord, public school teachers, attorneys, former Dartmouth President James Wright and Senate President Sylvia Larsen.

In any event, the task force intends to meet several times and come up with guidelines that will be useful in shaping a curriculum aimed at greater civic awareness and participation by graduates of public schools. This may be a monumental task and ambitious goal.

Supreme Court Society Chair Mary Susan Leahy deserves credit for spurring this effort.

Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.

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