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John Burnham “Jack” Bates, a former managing partner of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, died Monday of pneumonia in his Piedmont home. He was 86. An Oakland native, Bates was a courtroom lawyer and a socially prominent figure who led the firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop during a time when it was the West Coast’s largest firm. Former colleagues say Bates played an integral role in attracting major corporate clients to Pillsbury. He managed the firm for four years before retiring in 1984. “He was the go-to lawyer for our major clients,” said William Edlund, a former Pillsbury partner now with Bartko, Zankel, Tarrant & Miller. Edlund and Ronald Van Buskirk, currently Pillsbury Winthrop’s general counsel, said Bates rose to the top of the firm by being a loyal and effective trial lawyer, rather than an administrator. “Jack was not a detail person, but he had great trial intuition, and great and usually accurate gut reactions during trials that made him successful,” said Edlund. Bates augmented his courtroom reputation with extensive social connections. He was a confidant of both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, president of the Cypress Point Club, and a member of the Bohemian Club and Pacific Union Club. He turned down an offer to serve as an assistant to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. “He was very well connected, very well known throughout the country, so he brought in a lot of business on his own,” said T. Neal McNamara, Pillsbury’s chairman from 1990 to 1995. Bates received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1941 and served in three U.S. Navy campaigns in World War II. He enrolled at Boalt Hall School of Law upon returning from the war and joined Pillsbury after graduating in 1947, becoming a partner in 1953. Bates was a regent of the American College of Trial Lawyers and served on the boards of the Barristers Club and the Bar Association of San Francisco. He was active in several nonprofits and served as president of the Commonwealth Club and as a trustee of the Pacific Legal Foundation. An enthusiastic outdoorsman, he enjoyed riding, hunting and fishing. Bates is survived by his wife, Nancy Witter Bates, his children John Bates Jr., Kathy Bates Kreitler and Charlie Bates, and seven grandchildren. Donations may be sent to the Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market St., Second Floor, San Francisco 94105, or to the California Waterfowl Association, 4630 Northgate Blvd., Suite 150, Sacramento 95834.

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