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H. Kenneth Fish, innovative lawyer, Weston activist; at 88

H. KENNETH FISH

An optimist with strongly held convictions, H. Kenneth Fish spent more than 50 years trying to make Weston a diverse community accessible to people from all social and economic backgrounds.

“Weston is a fairly homogenous place,’’ said his wife, Imogene.

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After the couple moved to town in the early 1960s, they worked with other like-minded residents to make Weston more inclusive by creating and nourishing the Roxbury-Weston Programs, the Weston Affordable Housing Foundation, and a scholarship fund for students attending town schools through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity.

“We just saw a huge need on the part of Weston as well as people elsewhere,’’ Imogene said. “That was a sort of triggering time for many people of our generation.’’

Mr. Fish, who also founded the business department of Boston law firm Foley Hoag, where he spent his legal career, died of congestive heart failure Jan. 5 in the North Hill in Needham retirement community, where he lived in recent years. He was 88.

“He was deeply interested in humanity and he didn’t just speak it, he acted it,’’ said his daughter Vicky of Norwich, Vt.

The Roxbury-Weston organization gives Boston children a chance to attend Weston schools, while the Weston Metco Scholarship Fund provides financial aid for college-bound students. Weston Affordable Housing creates housing opportunities which, among other initiatives, have helped some longtime residents remain in town.

‘Every interaction I ever had with him, he was looking to balance and help the disadvantaged in any way he could.’

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Mr. Fish’s wife said that in the 1960s, she and her husband were a part of a group of residents who launched Roxbury-Weston Programs out of a belief that bringing children from the two communities together in a new preschool in Weston would be mutually beneficial.

When nine graduates of Roxbury-Weston Programs entered Weston elementary schools through Metco, the Fishes were a part of a similar group of volunteers who established the scholarship fund to help pay for the children’s education beyond high school.

Born in the Western Massachusetts town of Montgomery, Mr. Fish grew up in Trenton, N.J.

He graduated from high school in 1941 and enrolled at Rutgers University, only to put his studies on hold to enlist in the Army in 1943. He was stationed in France until his discharge in 1946. Returning to Rutgers, Mr. Fish graduated with a bachelor’s degree the following year.

Mr. Fish graduated from Harvard Law School in 1950 and joined Foley Hoag, then a small Boston firm. He found his niche helping set up business organizations, mergers, acquisitions, public offerings, and licensing.

Longtime colleague Donald Ware of Cambridge said Mr. Fish is credited with founding the firm’s business department.

“He was a real pioneer in the early days of high technology,’’ said Ware, who added that Mr. Fish drew early clientele from the technology start-ups along Route 128.

“This was a time before there was a lot of venture capital around,’’ Ware said, which meant that “people who founded these companies were on their own. Ken became a great mentor to them, a real sort of old-fashioned counsel. That was the nature of his practice.’’

Mr. Fish’s approach to client service was revolutionary for the time, Ware said. Before e-mail and cellphones, when lawyers often responded to clients by dropping a letter in the mail, Mr. Fish believed in returning a client’s call within a two-hour window.

“Today, it sounds almost obvious,’’ Ware said. “That kind of service is a tenet of the modern law firm, but it wasn’t then.’’

In 1958, Mr. Fish married Imogene Opton, who had been a member of the 1952 US Olympic alpine ski team.

“We met in the fall of 1957, and I would call her for a date every weekend, and of course she wasn’t going to be around because she was skiing,’’ Mr. Fish told the Globe last year. “So our matchmaker friends had a dance. . . and my [law] partner said, ‘Invite her,’ and she said yes.’’

They moved to Weston in the early 1960s when she was pregnant with their first child. Quickly realizing they were two of very few Democrats in town, Mr. Fish decided to become politically active, his wife said.

Despite his busy schedule in the community and at Foley Hoag, where he also served as a managing partner on the executive committee, he always made family his first priority.

Mr. Fish and his family often spent weekends cross-country skiing, and hiking in New Hampshire, where they had a home.

“Today, we all talk so much about finding the right work-family balance,’’ Ware said. “He didn’t need consultants to tell him about work-family balance. Even as a very hard-working attorney, Ken got home every night to read to his daughters and have dinner with Imogene. He was very devoted to his family.’’

That devotion shone through in a Valentine’s Day feature in the Globe last year. The Fishes were one of four couples who talked about sustaining a marriage for more than 50 years.

“We’re very nice to each other,’’ Mr. Fish told the Globe.

“We always say please and thank you, even for the tiniest things,’’ his wife said for the same article.

Among the important factors they cited were listening to each other, mutual respect, kindness, and a healthy dose of separate friends and activities.

“They had a very equal relationship, and they complemented one another,’’ their daughter Vicky said. “I think they were both committed to taking the time and space to nurture their relationship. They regularly would have candlelight dinners. They said it was important to have a ritual.’’

Services have been held for Mr. Fish, who, in addition to Imogene and daughter Vicky, leaves two other daughters, Andrea of Palo Alto, Calif., and Caroline of Harvard; a sister, Lois Mulcahy of Newtown, Pa.; and eight grandchildren.

As Mr. Fish approached retirement in the mid-1990s, he joined the Partakers program and served as a mentor to a young prisoner who was trying to improve his life by participating in College Behind Bars. They formed such a close relationship that the prisoner once described Mr. Fish as “like a father to me,’’ his wife said.

Mr. Fish also was a driving force behind creating the Weston Affordable Housing Foundation in 1997. He retired from the law firm in 1998, which gave him time to serve as president of the foundation until 2008, when Ed Coburn succeeded him.

“Every interaction I ever had with him, he was looking to balance and help the disadvantaged in any way he could,’’ Coburn said.

Stephanie M. Peters can be reached at stephpeters08@gmail.com.
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