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Fred Upton, a lawyer who made NH better

Staff Report
December 05. 2013 10:19PM


CONCORD — Prominent Concord attorney Frederic Upton, who was a key member of one of the state's most prestigious law firms, died earlier this week at the age of 94 after battling cancer for nearly a decade.

Born in Bow in 1918, Upton lived virtually all of his life in Concord. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, attended Harvard Law School and practiced law at Upton & Hatfield, the firm started by his father, for nearly 50 years.

In a recent article about Upton in the New Hampshire Bar News, the publication of the New Hampshire Bar Association, editor Dan Wise wrote that Upton left law school shortly before obtaining his degree to join the U.S. Navy during World War II. He earned two Bronze Stars for his role aboard a destroyer in helping to sink two German U-boats.

Wise wrote that in 1943, with Upton back in Concord on leave from the Navy, the New Hampshire Supreme Court waived the bar exam and admitted him and Hugh Gregg, who later became New Hampshire's governor, to the bar association.

Upton for more than 25 years practiced law with his father, the late Robert Upton, who had begun the firm in 1908 and who briefly served for about a year as a U.S. senator in the early 1950s, filing the vacancy left by the death of Sen. Charles W. Tobey. Robert Upton died in 1972.

Fred Upton was named the first president of New Hampshire Bar Association after it became a unified bar in the early 1970s, meaning that all attorneys practicing in New Hampshire must be members of the New Hampshire Bar.

He had been a chief advocate for a unified bar, and he felt so passionately about it that when a challenge was issued to its status in the early 2000s, he came out of retirement at age 84 to argue successfully against the challenge before the state Supreme Court.

A key measure of the respect Upton had earned from the state's judiciary came when the Supreme Court named him the first chairman of the newly-created Judicial Conduct Committee in the 1970s.

During his half-century career, Upton worked alongside not only his father, but also his brother, former New Hampshire House speaker Richard Upton.

Richard Upton, who died in 1996, is known as the "father" of the modern New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary for sponsoring legislation that put candidates' names on the primary ballot in 1952 for the first time. That move resulted in the primary becoming a true test of how candidates are viewed by the voters.

Attorney Russell Hilliard said longtime law partner Fred Upton was perhaps most proud of his fight to keep Franconia Notch the picturesque area it is today.

Hilliard said Upton represented the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in the late 1960s in opposing the construction of a four-lane Interstate 93 through the notch.The family plans a memorial service for Upton at St. Paul's Church in Concord on Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Frederic K. Upton Justice Fund of the New Hampshire Bar Foundation.

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