Jo Ann Engelhardt recently joined the Board of Directors for the ABF and serves as a Co-Chair for the Florida Fellows and is a Benefactor Fellow. She is the Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Bessemer Trust in Palm Beach. In addition to her roles with the ABF, she serves as a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates and a member of the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline and is a member of the President’s Club of the ABA Fund for Justice and Education. Prior to Bessemer Trust, she was the President and CEO of Merrill Lynch Trust (Florida), practiced trust and estates law at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn and served as law clerk to the Hon. Millard Midoneck of the New York County Surrogate’s Court. In 2007, she was named by Global Investor as one of “20 Highly Regarded Women in Wealth”.
What does being a fellow mean to you?
A Fellow is a member of a community of lawyers across the US who value the mission and work of the ABF. It is, of course, a significant honor to be nominated. But the value of being a Fellow is to be able to attend thought-provoking programs presented by exceptional scholars, to learn from them, and to feel part of a community that places a premium on innovative and independent research. Being a Fellow also means taking seriously the obligation to provide financial support to the ABF, year after year, to ensure the future of the organization.
Where were you born and raised?
I am Brooklyn, NY, born and bred (but thankfully do not have the accent to prove it). I walked to elementary, junior high school, and high school, and received an excellent public school education.When I attended Barnard College, I commuted on the subway an hour each way. That hour was a golden opportunity to get my reading in: as an English literature major, there was plenty to read. Perhaps from that experience, I have grown to love public transportation. Brooklyn has many amenities, and my favorites are Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, where I spent many hours as a young person.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
It was my mother’s idea. Really. I have always been a dutiful daughter, and when Mom said law school was the place for me, I did not argue. She had in mind a career in international law and had a vision of my future based in an exotic locale handling complex matters in three languages simultaneously.Of course, from Brooklyn, almost anywhere is exotic. I turned instead to tax and trusts and estates, and have been very happy with my choice. As for the three languages, my French is quite passable, I speak enough Spanish to get along fine in South Florida, and I can say “I don’t speak Italian very well” convincingly enough to receive a reply in that language.
If you hadn’t pursued a career in law, what would you have done?
My first ambition was to be a fiction editor. The work would have been interesting, but I’m glad I listened to my mother.I love to edit and proofread, and am happy when I have the chance to filibuster about grammar and usage. I’ve found that few writings can’t be improved by judicious pruning. Or, as Blaise Pascal would say: “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” The statement is often attributed to Mark Twain as “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”
What do you do in your free time?
Proofread. I’m also a serious classical ballet student, taking class 4-5 times a week. No national company offers yet.
Who is your professional hero?
This is difficult to answer, as I admire many lawyers. But the name that springs to mind is William Broome, a solo practice attorney in my community who, in addition to helping local clients who can’t afford the big firms also reads in a range of genres, practices calligraphy, takes care of his wife who has MS, and has more kindness in his heart on any given day than I have in a month. I admire Bill so much.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
My husband George is the truly interesting one in the family. He was at Chicago Theological with Jesse Jackson and marched with him in Selma, his languages are Sanskrit and Tibetan, and he is a Jungian analyst. Believe me, you will have more fun talking with him than with me!