Wayne Rich ’67 inspires, establishes, and funds the Veteran’s Pro Bono Project

April 10, 2009Duke Law News

Having enjoyed a successful dual career as a federal prosecutor and as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Wayne A. Rich Jr. recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, where he worked on a remote military forward operating base southeast of Baghdad, as the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team’s Rule of Law Coordinator. He helped reestablish a “rule of justice” in Iraq by mentoring Iraqi judges and prosecutors and instilling due process and human rights protections within the Iraqi Army and police. He also worked with the army and police to rebuild community relations with citizens and school children, advanced the practice of human rights through family cultural events, assisted the Wasit University School of Law, and promoted female equality.

Rich has demonstrated an equally strong commitment to Duke University and the Law School community. He assists the Duke Athletic Department in organizing its annual Military Appreciation Day during a home football game. Mark Carter, director of the Duke University Football Enhancement Fund, says that Rich has always been enthusiastic about the event. “He jumped right in and asked how he could help,” Carter says. “He has spent a good deal of his time reaching out to different branches of the military.”

A loyal donor to the Annual Fund and an active Law School volunteer and mentor, Rich says he believes “every alum has a unique contribution they can make and each one can find a special niche…If you look at ‘the Duke Way’—you serve and you give back, when you’re in the position to do so, to the cause in which you believe.”

He has pursued ways of giving back that fit his unique perspective as a Marine, a federal prosecutor, and a Duke Law graduate. His generosity includes a $10,000 gift that established the Wayne A. and Ellen Peters Rich Memorial Fund, in honor of his parents. This gift was applied to the Veteran’s Assistance Project (now known as the Veteran’s Pro Bono Project), in which students, under the supervision of volunteer attorneys accredited to work with the Veteran’s Administration, assist veterans seeking disability benefits and the families of those killed in action.

“Wayne’s gift was the final necessary ingredient that kick-started the whole veteran’s pro bono program,” says Anne Sherman, assistant dean for academic advising at the Law School. “Wayne came in and he was just really enthusiastic. He had resources from the military and people he could draw upon. It was important for all of us to create a manageable project, and everyone felt like assisting with disability claims was doable.”

“My vision is to have pro bono attorneys so confident in the training provided to the law students that they will feel comfortable taking on multiple cases,” adds Kim Burrucker, director of public interest and pro bono.

Rich became aware of disabled veterans’ urgent need for assistance filing benefit claims during his Iraq service and as a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that assists injured veterans. After learning of Duke Law students’ desire to assist such veterans, he decided to contribute to the Veteran’s Assistance Project at the Law School.

“One thing about Wayne, he is sincere,” says George Guthrie ’67, a classmate from grade school in Charleston, W.Va., through high school and again in Law School. “If he believes in something, he pursues it with unbridled enthusiasm. He has been that way ever since I’ve known him. He’s just a heck of a good man.”

Marine Lt. Jacob Warren ’09, who has worked on the Veteran’s Pro Bono Project for the past two years, is excited to work with Rich again. “It’s important for our generation to help those who are coming back,” Warren says. “Colonel Rich will jump in the water when he gets back from Iraq, because that’s how he is. He’ll be ready to go.”

Guthrie echoes the sentiment.

“Wayne sees the good in people and is always helpful to people who can help each other. He always has something on his mind,” Guthrie says. “He has been interested in helping other people since he was 18 years old. That’s the guy I know.”

If you would like to make a gift to the Veteran’s Pro Bono Project or would like more information about how you can help, please contact Janet Silber at the Alumni & Development Office at 919-613-8543 or at silber@law.duke.edu.