Change of Heart Retired attorney originally planned to be a missionary

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. He first set his sights on being a missionary, then dreamed of a career in politics, before becoming a lawyer in Brooklyn, south of Jackson.

A native of Monroe, Navarre moved to Jackson at the age of 5, where he attended Queens Grade School and St. Mary's High School.

He 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, Navarre and Noble. Russ Noble later became a Jackson County Circuit Court judge.

In 1963, Navarre opened his sole practice in Brooklyn, where he and his wife raised three sons and three daughters; the couple, now divorced, has 12 grandchildren.

"I really liked being in Brooklyn. It's a great place to live and work because of the people," he says. "There were no national businesses except for the gas stations, the auto dealers. 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.

"I was really honored by that," he says. "I thought me -- a Roman Catholic lawyer -- being asked to be the treasurer...wow."

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 was 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 that the judge disqualify himself -- which he did, after some argument."

The case was later tried to a visiting J.P from Tecumseh who found Navarre's client not guilty.

"I also 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," Navarre says. "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 waterfowl and deer, 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. Additionally the shelter is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization."

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; he preaches every other month or when a scheduled minister cannot be there. 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. Also, there are some whose addiction has impoverished them and who are often sick. Oftentimes there is great dejection and discouragement. I try to bring hope and encouragement by presenting the gospel of Jesus to each one."

People find themselves in hard circumstances because of bad decisions, he says.

"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."

Navarre is a past president of the Brooklyn Kiwanis Club, and served as president to the St. Mary School Board and the St. Mary Parish Council. He taught a theology class to seniors at Lumen Christi High School in Jackson, and for 10 years skated with Jackson Slow Puck Hockey, hanging up the blades at the age of 58.

He belongs to the "Morning Star Christian Community" formed in the '70s in Jackson, and comprising Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Nazarenes, 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, daily read our scriptures, have a daily prayer time with the Lord, pay a tithe and support our individual churches. It's been a source of great strength to have these committed relationships for so many years."

Published: Mon, Nov 7, 2011