Retired attorney planned to be a missionary, helps hungry

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Retired attorney Bill Navarre can look back over a legal career that spans almost five decades.

But law wasn’t his original career choice. A native of Monroe who moved to Jackson at the age of 5, Navarre attended The University of Notre Dame Summer School in 1955 for pre-seminary Latin, before attending St. John Vianney Seminary near Steubenville, Ohio, with the goal of becoming a missionary.

“I joined the Glenmary Fathers, of Glendale, Ohio. I would serve the poor in the poor counties of the southern and southwestern states,” he says. “I enjoyed seminary life for a year, but I became lonely and decided I was not cut out for the vocation.” He left the seminary and attended John Carroll University, a private, co-educational Jesuit Catholic university in Cleveland, where he majored in history, with minors in philosophy, sociology, and Latin.

He then turned his attention to the law.

“My father was a lawyer, and I dreamed of becoming a U.S senator. I thought law would be a good preparation,” he says.

After earning his law degree in 1962 from Georgetown Law School, he worked for his father’s law firm. In 1963, Navarre opened his solo practice in Brooklyn, south of Jackson. “I really liked being in Brooklyn. It’s a great place to live and work because of the people,” he says. “Things were home owned and home grown back then.

“As a lawyer in Brooklyn, I was a part of my clients’ lives, not just their businesses. I could tell by the smell what kind of farmer was in my office: dairy, pig, beef, or chicken.

“Also there was a sense of oneness and inter-denominational honor and respect was the rule, though there were a few exceptions as one would expect.”

A Roman Catholic by faith, Navarre has represented about 10 non-Catholic churches, organizations and ministries as well as several Roman Catholic organizations, and served as treasurer for the Bill Glass Champions for Life Crusade when the evangelist came to Jackson.

For a while, Navarre teamed with his son-in-law Chad Perrine, who was waiting for acceptance in the U-M School of Dentistry.

“At that time I needed a legal secretary and I recognized in Chad the talents necessary to perform this role. He was happy to have work and I was happy to have a competent secretary,” Navarre says.

Perrine changed his original career focus and earned his law degree from Cooley Law School. The two joined forces as Navarre & Perrine P.C., serving individuals and businesses in all areas including business, real estate, probate and estate administration, estate planning, and civil litigation. When Navarre retired in April, Perrine joined Marcoux Allen in Jackson.
Navarre has seen huge changes during his 49 years in the legal profession.

“I think the demise of the Justice of the Peace System is big,” he says. “Historically, each township had a J.P as did each village. There are not many of us left who have tried cases in Cement City, Brooklyn, Napoleon, Vandercook Lake, Michigan Center, Columbia, Mason, and Stockbridge.”

The J.P court was a special sort of law practice, Navarre says. In a reckless driving case he wa trying in Cement City, he was cross-examining a police officer on the stand.

“I asked if there was any one with him at the time he arrested my client for the crime of reckless driving. He said yes and pointed to the judge who was hearing the case,” he says. “I respectfully demanded  the judge disqualify himself – which he did, after some argument.”

Navarre says, “I believe the cost of our current legal system is so great that a very great number of our citizens cannot afford to have their rights protected. The cost of a civil case even in district court is so high that not many can afford it.

“Some day there will be an answer for this. There must be. We have the very best legal system in the world – and I’ve seen the Eastern Europe system, the China way of dealing out ‘justice’ and been in a ‘court’ in Inner Mongolia.”

Navarre, who enjoys impressionist art, classical music, golf, and hunting, gives his time to the Jackson Interfaith Shelter where he serves as lay pastor. The nonprofit shelter, with 32 beds for men and 44 for women and children, provides emergency shelter for the homeless and needy, prepared meals and assistance with physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

“The shelter is well respected in the Jackson community and is supported by many good people who recognize the wonderful impact it makes,” he says. “It makes good sense to give to the shelter as opposed to an individual because you can be assured where your money is going.”

Navarre, who has been involved with the shelter for 11 years, teaches a Bible study on Wednesday evenings and coordinates Sunday services with four or five local Christian churches taking one Sunday a month.. Individuals are under no obligation to take part in services, he says.

“Most of us realize we live in a broken world where we find pain and suffering, if not next door then just down the street,” he says. “At the shelter there is refuge for those who are just out of prison or jail, whose home burned to the ground with all they owned, or who were thrown out by a spouse or a parent, or whose home was taken by the bank... Oftentimes there is great dejection and discouragement. The sad fact is often we not only bring ourselves down, we pull others with us. A few years ago I heard of a statistic that the average age of the homeless in Michigan is 13 years old.”

He belongs to the “Morning Star Christian Community” in Jackson, comprising Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and others.
“We’ve lived our trans-denominational lives together now for some 36 years,” Navarre says. “We agreed we would respect one another’s traditional backgrounds, not trying to convert each other.”

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