Home » Kennedy Helm, former Stites & Harbison chair, dies at age 66

Kennedy Helm, former Stites & Harbison chair, dies at age 66

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (March 18, 2013) — T. Kennedy Helm III, the well known and accomplished lawyer who headed Stites & Harbison for 14 years, growing it into one of Kentucky’s largest law firms, died Friday at age 66.

T. Kennedy Helm III
T. Kennedy Helm III

RELATED: One-On-One with Kennedy Helm: Former Stites & Harbison chairman discusses his long tenure in legal services, the economy, Kentucky leaders

“Stites mourns the loss of its Chairman Emeritus, Kennedy Helm III. Kennedy leaves a legacy of unparalleled service and accomplishment. He will be greatly missed,” states a message posted on the Stites & Harbison website homepage.

A story in the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that he died at the Mayo Clinic, surrounded by family members, after a long battle with myelofibrosis, a bone marrow disease.

“Under his leadership (1997-2011), the firm more than doubled in size through internal growth and by combining with firms in Atlanta, Nashville and Alexandria; developed one of the top 100 IP practices in the country; embarked on an award-winning total quality service program; pursued an award-winning print advertising and marketing program; and instituted a nationally-recognized lawyer training program,” Stites.com states. “Mr. Helm was a transactional lawyer focusing on business law and banking and finance, with significant involvement in airport law.”

Helm received a juris doctorate from University of Virginia School of Law in 1974. There, he was executive editor of the Virginia Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. Before law school, Helm earned a master’s degree in English at Indiana University in 1971 and a bachelor’s in political science at Yale University where he graduated cum laude in 1968.

He was known for a dry wit among his friends and associates.

Helm was the subject of the March 2010 Lane One-on-One interview in The Lane Report. Although the law firm had a two-term limit for its chairman post, Helm served five terms totaling 15 years, stepping down in 2011. In that interview with Ed Lane, who is now chief executive of the magazine, Helm discussed his greatest challenge:

“Here’s the secret about being a law firm managing partner/chairman. It is the most fun job in the world,” he said. “I mean it is a challenge every day. It’s an opportunity to build something every day. It challenges you personally and intellectually. It is wonderful. I’ve been doing this now for 13 years; I’m in my fifth three-year term.”

Before Gov. Steve Beshear was elected to his current position in 2007, Helm was his boss. Beshear was the top executive of the Stites & Harbison Lexington office.

“I have a huge amount of respect for him, his integrity, intelligence, work ethic and judgment,” Helm said of Beshear in the One-on-One. “Steve was our office executive partner in Lexington; I put him in that position when I became managing partner.”

The Courier-Journal reported that Beshear issued a statement saying that Helm “possessed a sharp mind and a wit to match, which made him a marvelous lawyer and a great leader.”

“I was honored to call Kennedy Helm a colleague and a friend for many years. Jane and I will miss him terribly, and we extend our condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, and his family,” Beshear said.

Helm’s civic and community involvement included board memberships on Greater Louisville Inc.; Louisville Zoo Foundation; Japan-America Society of Kentucky; Louisville Science Center; University of Louisville Board of Overseers; and Kentucky Country Day School.

Helm was past chairman of the board of directors of the Louisville Urban League; a past member of the board of West End School; and a member of the board of trustees of Simmons College of Kentucky. He was a former member of the board of Whayne Supply Co. and of Griffin & Co., and past director of National City Bank of Kentucky. He was a member of the board of overseers of the University of Louisville, where he chaired its visiting committee to the University of Louisville Law School. Beshear appointed Helm to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education in 2012.

A recent survey of top law firm managing partners conducted by Edge International, an international legal consulting firm, identified Helm as one of the Top 10 managing partners most admired for excellence in leadership by his peers. He spoke and wrote on numerous occasions on legal management topics ranging from strategic planning to law firm mergers to quality legal services to lawyer training and development.

Helm was listed in The Best Lawyers in America® (1995-2013) for Corporate Law, Mergers & Acquisitions Law, Municipal Law and Public Finance Law, Kentucky Super Lawyers magazine, where he was listed among the Top 50 Lawyers in the state and Chambers USA, “America’s Leading Lawyers for Business.” He received the Social Responsibility Award presented by the Louisville Urban League in 2009.

Helm enjoyed a challenge, according to the Stites & Harbison website, and loved Thoroughbred horse racing, University of Louisville basketball, golf and his rose garden.