“An incredible legacy.” University of Kentucky law professor dies at age 83.


His family has confirmed that retired University of Kentucky law professor William H. “Bill” Fortune, an academic who also devoted himself to public service, died on Monday, January 29. He was 83 years old.

Fortune taught criminal law at his alma mater, the J. David Rosenberg School of Law in the United Kingdom, for 43 years. He focused on criminal procedure and ethics, occasionally taking time off from his teaching duties to work as a public defender.

“He will leave an incredible legacy,” said Robert J. Lawson, professor emeritus and former dean of UK Law School, who attended Fortune Law School and later worked with him there. “He spent his whole life trying to help people.”

During his long career in the United Kingdom, Luck held various leadership positionsincluding stints as university senate president, associate dean of the law school and academic ombudsman, according to his biography posted on the law school’s website.

After retiring from the university in 2012, he continued teaching.

“It was right for me” Luck said Teaching in a 2019 interview with the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History in the United Kingdom.

Paul Salamanca, the Wendell H. Ford Professor of Law at UK, said Fortune advocates a “problem-based approach” to teaching students that helps them think about real-world applications of what they are learning.

“He wanted students to be able to practice law when they walked out of this building,” he said. “He was interested in teaching methods that reached them.”

Throughout his career, Fortune took on pro bono cases and took a leave of absence from the university three times to work as a public defender, according to his online biography. He served in the federal courts in Los Angeles and in Lexington for several years in the 1970s, and from 1992 to 1993, he worked in the state court system in Pikeville.

“Bill was in some ways an unconventional academic,” Salamanca said. “He loved being a lawyer, as well as a professor.”

Fortune also had an interest in the judiciary. Among his many books on the legal system are two about the federal courts in Kentucky: On the Bench, a history of the judges who sat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Call Me Mack, a biography of U.S. District Judge Mack Swinford Appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Fortune was active in the Fayette County Bar Association, as well as the Kentucky Bar Association.

“The KBA has served as very few lawyers ever have, as (1) a drafter of the State Rules of Evidence, (2) a member of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct Committee, (3) as counsel to the Kentucky Judicial Ethics Commission, (4) as an author of numerous From books and articles on professional responsibility, and (5) through more presentations on continuing legal education than perhaps any other lawyer in Kentucky has ever given. Fortune’s CV as part of the UK Law Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

“He was always doing something or other for the bar,” Salamanca said. “All the lawyers thought the world of him.”

Lawson said he and Fortune led a task force that prepared the state to adopt laws related to the rules of evidence.

“We worked with legislators, judges and lawyers,” Lawson said.

He added that after more than three decades, these laws are still in effect.

After the grand jury failed to issue any indictments in 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire that left 165 people dead. Lawson said he and Fortune were appointed to help Lexington attorney Cecil Dunn investigate and issue a report on whether the case should be presented to a grand jury again, which they did not recommend.

Lawson said Fortune was “the easiest person I’ve ever known” to work with.

“He had no enemies, and he was highly respected by everyone,” Lawson said. “Everyone has great respect for Bill Fortune.”

Fortune’s friend and fellow longtime cyclist, Tom Eplin, a columnist and former managing editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, said he first met Fortune through his wife, Beverly Fortune, who was at the time a reporter for the Herald-Leader.

“The main thing about Bill was that he was just interested in people. He loved doing good things for people,” Eblin said. “Bill is one of the kindest people I know.”

Fortune has been involved in mission work through Second Presbyterian Church, and drives for Meals on Wheels and ITNBluegrass, which provides rides for seniors and people with low vision, Eplin said.

Fortune was a Lexington native who majored in history at UK and then attended law school there.

He spent five years in private practice before joining the university staff in 1969.

Salamanca said Wealth has deep roots in Lexington, where his father was a prominent physician and his grandfather was a minister here, but he has taken an active interest in helping Salamanca and others new to Lexington become part of the community.

“He was never stingy or generous with his resources,” he said. “Bill will do what he thinks is good to make people feel comfortable in this community.”

When Salamanca moved to Lexington in 1995, “Bill was one of the first people to reach out to me at that time to make me feel welcome,” he said.

He remembered that Fortune organized hiking tours and biking trips so Salamanca could meet other faculty and community members.

He said he was a “generous, friendly, sociable, kind person” who “cared about his city, cared about his state and his country.”

Luck led an active lifestyle.

Eblin said he worked out at the High Street YMCA and was a runner who was part of the Todds Road Stumblers before becoming a keen cyclist. He was active in the Bluegrass Bicycle Club.

At 68, he spent nine weeks riding across the country, from Seattle to Portland, Maine.

“When he was 68, he was in better shape than most 35-year-olds,” Eplin said.

Ebelin and Fortune shared a love of cycling and rode thousands of miles together.

“He wasn’t a racer type of rider. He just liked to get out and explore the countryside,” Eplin said. “He really got a lot of enjoyment out of riding.”

“You see the country in a different way when you ride a bike,” Fortune told Ebelin in a 2008 column about that cross-country trip. “If you made the trip in the car, you wouldn’t be able to see it as slowly and intensely as we saw it.”

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.

Bill Fortune volunteered as a doorman as the Kentucky Theater hosted a party in October to celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2012. Herald-Leader

Bill Fortune volunteered as a doorman as the Kentucky Theater hosted a party in October to celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2012. Herald-Leader

Herald-Leader reporter John Chevis contributed to this story.

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