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In Tribute to a Man of Generous Spirit

Revered attorney R. Robert Popeo ’61 will not soon be forgotten.

R. Robert Popeo ’61 

“A legendary lawyer.” “A creative strategist.” “A tenacious force.” Those descriptions of R. Robert Popeo ’61 by Mintz colleague Bob Bodian echo through the many tributes paid to Popeo since his passing on July 3 at the age of 85.

There is this from fellow BC Law alumnus Scott Ford ’95, chair of the litigation practice at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo, where Popeo served as chairman for many years: “Bob Popeo was the finest lawyer of any generation, and he commanded every courtroom he ever entered, just as he deftly counseled clients through every crisis. But what best defined him was his compassion, loyalty, and true moral compass that made him irreproachable and a revered leader. His legacy will live on in countless lawyers who try, however imperfectly, to model themselves after this true legend.”

And this, from Sue Finegan ’91, chair of Mintz’s pro bono committee: “Bob was an incredible lawyer and strategist whose network was legendary; I was so fortunate to have worked closely with him, and learned from him, for thirty years. Even more than his professional accomplishments, he was an incredible person who cared about his family—his own family, whom he spoke about often, but also his Mintz family. Every person at the firm I have spoken to since his passing has their own story of his kindness, myself included. These personal acts of kindness—calling me when he knew I needed support before the birth of my first child, or showing up at my father’s wake in the midst of COVID—are what I will remember—and miss—most of all.”

Popeo’s journey to the upper echelons of Boston’s legal, business, and philanthropic communities began in East Boston as the son of Italian immigrants. His competitive spirit emerged early—he was a teenage New England Golden Gloves boxing champion, according to the Boston Globe. As a rising lawyer after earning degrees from Northeastern University and Boston College Law School, his spirit of generosity also asserted itself. 

As did his loyalty. Popeo served for several terms on the Board of Trustees of Boston College, most recently as an associate trustee. He was also a member of the Law School’s Board of Overseers. In 1997 he was the recipient of the Law School’s highest honor, the St. Thomas More Award. His lifetime gifts to BC and BC Law exceeded $1 million. 

Popeo was giving in other ways as well, said Joan Lukey ’74, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board at BC Law. “I have never known a person more generous of spirit or more willing to help other lawyers reach their personal goals,” she explained. “He was always willing to give his time and, if asked, his advice, especially to the many lawyers who aspired to be just like him. I know this to be true because I was one of those lawyers. I will miss him greatly, both professionally and personally.”

According to a statement by Mintz, Popeo won more than 200 jury trials. One of the most famous of them was his successful defense in 1985 of then-state representative Vincent Piro on attempted extortion and conspiracy charges. Popeo became one of the most influential attorneys in Massachusetts, serving as a trusted advisor to leaders in government, politics, business, and education and to major corporations. 

Among the organizations on which he had a major impact is the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD-NE), where he served as president and then co-chair from 2012 to 2020. He was appreciated by the organization for his core belief that businesses, at their best, serve both to promote the economy and to elevate the social good with integrity. “Bob brought to his leadership of NACD-NE the same tenaciousness, wit, and brilliance that he brought to his client relationships—which is to say full-throttle, as in everything he touched,” the group’s statement said.

Popeo also shared his belief in the “social good” with those who came of age as lawyers at BC Law. “I, like countless others,” said Tom Burton ’96, chair of the energy and sustainability practice at Mintz, “would not be where I am today but for Bob Popeo.”