We are saddened to share that our friend and longtime partner, George L. Whitfield, has passed away. George began his career with Warner Norcross more than 50 years ago and was a founding member of our Employee Benefits Practice Group.
George was exceptionally well-liked and well-respected by both his colleagues and his clients. He represented businesses large and small, including some of the largest employers in West Michigan, with a passion, dedication and sense of fairness that unfailingly transformed clients into true friends. He mentored young lawyers within our firm and beyond our walls, guiding them through the complex rules he understood so well. George also served as an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University, teaching employee benefits law to thousands of students for more than 30 years.
George’s knowledge, experience and grace were recognized by those who practiced with him and those “on the other side of the desk,” including the Internal Revenue Service. George participated in a national IRS project to improve the organization’s governance of employee benefit plans, developing an IRS publication that is still in use today. Rather than viewing people at the IRS as adversaries, he saw them as people who also had a job to do. As a result, he was so respected by agents at the IRS that he counted many as close friends.
George was the first and long-term chair of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group, which has grown to be one of the largest among Michigan law firms. He was also a founding member of the Great Lakes TE/GE Council, which promotes a closer relationship between employee benefit practitioners and the government, a Fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, a Chambers’ USA “Leader in the Field,” and a Michigan “Super Lawyer.” He has been recognized by Best Lawyers in America every year since 1987 and in 2011 was named Best Lawyer’s Grand Rapids Employee Benefits Lawyer of the Year. A matter he was particularly pleased to work on, was successfully preventing the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation from terminating pension benefits he felt should continue to be paid to former employees of a West Michigan foundry who had lost their pensions when the foundry closed.
In George’s retirement note to the firm, he described Warner Norcross as the “fabric of my life.” He was right, of course, but it is also true that his life is and will always be an inextricable part of the fabric of the firm. We will remember George as a kind and gentle man, a valued partner and one of the attorneys who made Warner Norcross what it is today. We will miss him.
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