It is with heavy hearts that we mark the passing of one of our founding fathers, Bill Van Ness, Jr. on Tuesday, November 21st.  

Bill was a beloved friend, colleague, brother, father, and mentor. He was a visionary, finding the possibilities in every circumstance, and always keeping those around him focused on achieving the best outcome.  His accomplishments as a legislative craftsman and lawyer are legendary and impacted countless individuals throughout his lifetime and beyond.  He seamlessly married effective representation of clients and a lifelong dedication to public service, always stressing the importance of honest advocacy and the need to listen to, address, and balance all sides of important policy issues.

As meaningful as Bill’s professional contributions are, it is who Bill was as a human being that was his greatest gift to all who knew him. As an institution, we will honor Bill by continuing his legacy of high standards in the practice of law, the drafting of policy, and in his loving focus on his professional and personal families.

Below are excerpts from remarks made by Howard Feldman and Rick Agnew to Bill’s firm family: 

"…….Bill Van Ness was a friend, colleague and brother to me. For almost half a century we worked together, first on the Hill and then in founding the firm, forging a bond like none other.  Many of you benefited from his professionalism, guidance and kindness and all of us are the beneficiaries of his vision and wisdom, as it was Bill’s idea to create the firm.  At the end he was surrounded by his large and loving family which is the end he would have written for himself…..may our dear friend find eternal rest and peace." - Howard

"No words can appropriately supplement Howard’s beautiful personal thoughts and conveyance of the firm’s sense of loss with the passing of Bill Van Ness.  He was a mentor and father figure for so many of us in the firm, in Alaska and in the halls of Congress—too many other people in all walks of life to count. 

We will notify all of the firm family, and our alumni, of plans for services and remembrances as arrangements are made and information is available.  In the meantime, we will absorb this loss as best we can, and carry on in the memory of a truly great man, who inspired so many to be their better selves, to live life fully and in discerning ways, and to protect and empower family, colleagues and friends, now and always." - Rick

Below are links to remembrances published about Bill, followed by excerpts from the many notes and emails received by the firm in the days that have followed Bill’s passing.

The Olympian

Anchorage Daily News

Henry M. Jackson Foundation 

Remarks from Former Colleagues and Friends of the Firm

“I am especially grateful for the role he played in regards to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and all of the opportunities and benefits that the Act has provided to us.  I might have drafted a few things differently (wink wink), but it is an amazing piece of legislation that has impacted so many lives in a positive way.  What a legacy he has left behind for Van Ness Feldman, for Alaska and for Alaska Natives.”

“It’s been a surreal experience reflecting over the past several days on my time at VNF and of Bill.  I think of him coming into the office regularly and how he would always, always take the time to talk to me about politics,  law, DC, sports, family (his and mine) and whatever else interested both of us. I would come to learn that not every receptionist is treated that way in the many different offices around the world.  I remember him as a pillar of class, professionalism, and wisdom, with a warm, generous spirit. Even as a young, naïve kid I could sense that this is what a leader looks and acts like.”

"For me personally, he was a friend, mentor and an example to try to live up too.  Whether in his role in the Senate or later at the law firm, he always had time to give advice on difficult legislative issues or just to chat.  If there were more people like Bill in public service today, the country would be much better off."

I remember Bill most vividly and fondly from Bennett's very early days in the Senate, when on behalf of a likely skeptical chairman, Bill graciously eased the path for a new oil-and-gas senator to join the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. I would say things worked out pretty well for Scoop, for the rookie and for the country.”

“Bill Van Ness was to me, as to many others in the firm a dear colleague, friend and mentor. We send our deepest sympathy to the firm that you so daringly founded so long ago.”

"I was saddened to see the obituary of Mr. Bill Van Ness recently. We lost a true friend in his passing. At times when Mr. Van Ness and I visited and I asked him a whole slew of questions, sometimes I apologized for asking what he might consider trivial. His answer always was “there are no dumb questions just as there no trivial questions.”  He was truly a humble great man."

To learn more about Bill’s life and accomplishments, please click here.

Click here for an interview of Bill discussing the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
View Full Biography >

In lieu of flowers, the Van Ness family would appreciate donations be made in Bill's name to:

24 Seton Road
Port Townsend, WA 98368