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Henry Christensen III

November 3, 2017

Henry “Terry” Christensen was born and raised in Madison, New Jersey, preparing at Madison High School, where he met and later married Constance, or “Connie,” on the first day of high school, and then at The Peddie School before entering Yale in the fall of 1962. He was an outstanding, highly successful lawyer, and was widely known and respected, even internationally, in the field of trust and estates and estate planning, both within the legal profession and academia. He was almost equally well known, admired, and sought after for his leadership and the contributions he and Connie made to the community and to the arts.

Terry was an English major at Yale, earned Dean’s List or Ranking Scholar status depending upon the semester, and graduated cum laude. He was a voracious reader and in his own words “wallowed in English,” but found ample time for Frisbee on the Cross Campus; playing squash at 3 am on the Berkeley courts with roommate Mark Thomson; and reading and napping in Sterling’s L & B Room. He was invited to join the Yale Daily News as a staff member in ’63 and stayed and became Managing Editor for ’65-’66. Yale Daily News Editor-in-Chief Howie Moffett commented, “We were very lucky to have Terry as News Editor. He was serious about his task (although he enjoyed a good joke as much as any of us, and told a few himself), completely reliable in terms of getting assignments confirmed and stories edited and proofed, and very well organized.” Classmate Tom Barry, Finance Manager of the Yale Daily, remembers him as “friendly, quiet, and quite cerebral.” Faced with the inevitable choice of what to do after graduation, Terry said he decided he didn’t want to be an English professor or a news editor. Instead he chose law school and Harvard.

Graduating from Harvard Law School three years later, he joined and later became partner at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, specializing in trust and estates and estate planning and in time establishing a national and international reputation for his expertise. Among other offices held, he chaired the International Committee and was a Regent for the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and he served as President and later Chancellor of the International Academy of Estate and Trust Law. He wrote International Estate Planning and was Adjunct Professor of Law, teaching International Estate Planning, in the highly respected programs at both NYU School of Law and the University of Miami Law School. In 2007 Terry changed firms and joined the Chicago-based law firm of McDermott Will & Emery. MWE had offices in New York, DC, or London, but it did not have a Private Clients Practice at them; and Terry was given the opportunity to develop the firm’s Private Clients Practice in those cities, which he said was “a challenge and a wonderful experience.”

Along with Connie he was very active in civic life. In 1987 he cofounded and for 20 years was chair of the Prospect Park Alliance in Brooklyn, restoring the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park, its 1912 carousel (which was dedicated to him in 2007), and especially the forest and landscape in and around the park. Prospect Park, he said, was his “fifth child.” Connie was a member of the Board of the Brooklyn Museum for 25 years; and for 20 years Terry was on the Board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in addition to serving on the boards of numerous organizations and foundations, including The Peddie School.

Love of opera and theater saw him joining and serving as Chair of the Theater for a New Audience and overseeing its move to and development of the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. The list is long.

Terry passed away five years after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. In July 2017 he celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with Connie, their four children and four grandchildren, all of whom survive him.

David Walker

Jay Lapin remembers:

I have known Terry for 60 years. We were high school classmates, college roommates, Best Men at each other’s weddings, and lifelong friends. As roommates at Yale, we savored, as the song says, “The shortest, gladdest years of life.” In fact, they were nearly too short because: Just weeks into our freshman year, we were almost expelled for throwing beer cans out our Bingham Hall room window onto a New Haven street.

We didn’t really throw beer cans onto the street. But Terry and I had been pranking a friend who lived one floor below us by dropping empty beer cans into his balcony. On the night in question another drunken friend had thrown a gin bottle into the street from our room. When the campus cops arrived to investigate the gin bottle, Terry had the bad luck to be poised with one arm out the window – beer can in hand. Terry was rusticated – he had to live off campus – for eight weeks. I was not caught in the act, but I was put on probation for the semester. Terry’s children loved this story – for obvious reasons – but I really believe it made Terry – and me – more understanding parents – and Terry perhaps a wiser family counselor to his clients.

Terry was a great reader, and he read broadly. He also seemed to remember everything he ever read, especially historical facts, however obscure. Understandably, he was not always humble about the breadth of his knowledge. One day in a college bull session, someone asked if George Washington ever bore any children. Terry immediately said “No,” and when asked how he knew this, he replied, “I would have heard.”

Terry loved trains. If you went into his study at home, there were pictures of trains on the wall, models of trains, and books on trains. Amid his collection of first editions of the great works of literature, Terry had hundreds of volumes on railroading. His favorite train book was one which showed the exact location of every train in the US at midnight on December 31st during one year in the 1950’s. He loved to open it at random and read about this freight or that superliner and where it was that particular midnight. Fittingly, on their last visit to see my wife and me in Seattle, he and Connie arrived by train…from Santa Fe…by way of Los Angeles.

At Yale, Terry introduced me to classical music, which we would occasionally blast into the Berkeley College courtyard on a warm spring evening. His love of music was not purely intellectual. Music, and especially Opera, moved him. Before Terry became sick, I asked him to introduce me to Wagner. In the course of doing that, he confided to me that the scene in Die Walkure where Wotan must say farewell to his daughter Brunhilde always brought him to tears as he imagined the pain of separation from his own girls.

When he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in July of 2012, he decided not to put his life on hold and pursue some fantasy bucket list. His life, his family, his work, his routines, everything that he loved, were a constantly refreshing bucket list for him, and so he pressed ahead with that life, and did so with even greater commitment and determination.

The chemotherapy that gave him five more years of life gradually sapped his strength. Yet, he maintained a grueling travel schedule to meet with clients and colleagues around the world. One year he logged more than 150,000 miles in the air. He also increased his speaking engagements and devoted more time to his Treatise.

But it was not all work. He and Connie decided that she would join him for much of this travel, and they turned many short business trips and speaking engagements into mini vacations…in Greece, New Zealand, Morocco, Colombia, and Costa Rica. They listened to Elgar in England, Schoenberg in Vienna and saw Opera all over. And in his last year, in a trip that he told me was most precious to him, the whole family went to Greece and sailed around the Peloponnese, allowing him to share his love of the Classical world with his grandchildren.

Terry did not like to talk about his illness. But, a few years ago, out of the blue, he told me that he had come to see his living with limited time as something that intensified the joy he found in both his personal and professional life. He savored his time with Connie and his family, his work with clients and colleagues. And — despite the hassles and discomforts of his disease and treatment — he found that life generally was richer and sweeter.

Terry’s grit and courage and in the face of his illness was an inspiration. His whole life was a gift to all who knew him.

Mark Thomson remembers:

Jay Lapin’s remembrance of Terry is so good and comprehensive that there is little I would add; but one aspect of Terry which could be included was his generosity. He was enormously helpful to family and friends one way or another in difficulties, and a more ideal godfather, as he was to my daughter, could not be imagined.