In Memoriam: Fern Schair

Fern Schair, who was the chief executive of the New York City Bar Association from 1982 to 1997, passed away on Thursday after a long illness. 

Fern began her career as a civil legal services attorney, advocating to keep people in their homes. Among her many accomplishments, she led efforts to improve the courts at the Fund for Modern Courts; co-founded the Children’s Law Center, which created a national model for representing children involved with the child welfare system; served as chair of Legal Services NYC; was founding chair of the advisory board of the Feerick Center for Social Justice; and co-chaired New York’s Committee on Women in the Courts.   

As Executive Secretary (the position now called Executive Director) of the City Bar, Fern is remembered as instrumental in spurring the growth of the association, increasing the diversity of its membership and simplifying the membership process, expanding the number and size of committees, and launching the Association’s pro bono efforts through the Robert B. McKay Community Outreach Law Program, which became the City Bar Justice Center. 

In “Making Sure We Are True to Our Founders,” the history of the City Bar from 1970 – 1995, the author writes, “Virtually everyone who has worked with Schair lauds her enthusiasm, vitality, and people skills. Some examples: The first president to serve a full term with Schair, Louis Craco, speaks of her sense of humor, her ability as quick study, and her ability to manage her many different roles. Cyrus Vance has spoken of his ‘joy’ to have worked with her, ‘without whose wisdom and matchless skills this Association could not have reached and maintained its remarkable level of achievement and service to the legal community and beyond.’ Robert Kaufman refers to her ‘great talent, wisdom, judgment, perception and tact,’ Conrad Harper, to her ‘quick and infectious sense of humor, her remarkable powers of analysis,’ and ‘her perspicuity wrapped in humor.’ Still another president said, ‘Fern is the organization.’” 

Fern Schair was the first woman to serve as chief executive of the City Bar, and the first woman to be honored with the Association Medal, in 1997, for “exceptional contributions to the honor and standing of the bar in this community.”