The State Bar of Michigan mourns the loss of its 38th president, Wallace D. Riley, who died May 17 at the age of 90.
“Wally Riley leaves a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments,” SBM Executive Director Janet Welch said. “To most people, his service as president of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan might stand out as his signature achievements, but to those who knew him best, his most defining legacy was his devotion to his cherished wife, Dorothy, and his partnership with her on her path to becoming a pioneering icon in her own right in Michigan legal history. They became, and will always remain, the ‘First Couple’ of the Michigan legal profession.”
"All of us are so saddened by the news of the passing of Wallace Riley,” SBM President Donald G. Rockwell said. “Wally was a true pillar in the State Bar of Michigan and the American Bar Association. He was greatly loved by all who knew him and he will be deeply missed."
Riley was elected president of the State Bar of Michigan for the 1972-1973 bar year, and was elected president of the American Bar Association for the 1983-1984 bar year. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1947 from the University of Chicago, where he also earned letters in basketball and baseball; earned three degrees from the University of Michigan, including a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1949, a Master of Business Administration in 1952 and a Juris Doctor in 1952; and he also earned a Master of Laws Degree in 1954 from George Washington University. He had a long and very distinguished legal career in Detroit, and founded the legendary law firm of Riley and Roumell in 1968 with his wife, Dorothy Comstock Riley, and friend, George T. Roumell. Prior to founding that firm, he practiced law with Burke, Burke and Smith in Ann Arbor, served as a first lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the United States Army, a member of the special counsel staff of Special Counsel to Secretary of the Army Joseph N. Welch in connection with the Army-McCarthy Hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the United States Senate, and practiced law in Detroit with Dykema, Jones & Wheat. He also served as an instructor at the University of Michigan, teaching labor relations, taxation and real estate valuation and finance.
Riley was a very active volunteer with the State Bar of Michigan, Michigan State Bar Foundation, Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, Detroit Bar Association, Federal Bar Association and American Bar Association. He served as president of the Michigan State Bar Foundation from 1974 to 1982, and a founding member of the Foundation Fellows Program. He served as president of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society and president of the Michigan Historical Center Foundation. He chaired the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board from 2000-2002. He served as chair of the Young Lawyer Section of the State Bar of Michigan and the Detroit Bar Association. He was national director and chairman of the Continuing Legal Education Committee of the ABA Young Lawyers Section. He served as president of the Federal Bar Association Detroit Chapter and 6th District National Vice President of the FBA. He also co-wrote the “Wayne County Practice and Procedure Handbook” with Allan Neef.
Riley was also very prominent in other civic activities. He served as a member of the City of Detroit Commission on Community Relations. He served as a lifetime member of the NAACP, on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Chapter of the American Cancer Society, on the Board of Directors of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, on the Board of Directors of SJS Bancorp Inc. and as Chairman of the Board of TechTeam Global Inc. He also served on the Michigan Board of Canvassers. For his outstanding achievements, he received many awards, among them the State Bar of Michigan Roberts P. Hudson Award and the Michigan State Bar Foundation Founders Award.
“Wally is a lawyer’s lawyer, a Bar person through and through, a civic leader, a scholar. He is politically savvy, a person of principle, a sports buff and a delightful friend,” George T. Roumell wrote in a 1983 Michigan Bar Journal when Riley became ABA President. “Few understand Bar activities the way Wally does. The hours and hours he has devoted to the interest of the Bar are legendary among those of us who practice with him.”