Northampton lawyer Edward Etheredge winds down long career, reflects on public service


Staff Writer

Published: 06-17-2022 11:16 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Attorney Edward Etheredge, a fixture in the local legal scene who provided counsel for nearly a half-century, is slowly retiring. He still visits his Gothic Street office once a week, but he’s taking more time these days to read for pleasure and go for walks with his wife.

Etheredge, 75, spent more than 45 years working in civil and criminal law in Northampton, representing his clients in all of their “general confrontations” with the legal system, he said Tuesday. In the 1980s, he was first assistant district attorney under Northwestern DA Michael Ryan’s administration.

Last year, Etheredge and his longtime law partner, Shelley Steuer, merged their firm with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., giving the larger regional practice a foothold in Northampton.

His retirement “has begun,” he said, “but it’s not like it’s a bright line. Not like you see on TV, where people fill up a banker’s box and walk out the door.”

Presidential detail

A native of Iowa, Etheredge was drafted into the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and served for three years on Cape Cod and in San Francisco repairing aircraft radar.

He remembers, more than once, standing on asphalt and baking under the sun in San Antonio with hundreds of other airmen in basic training, awaiting the arrival of President Lyndon B. Johnson on Air Force One. The 36th president would finally land and give a passing “Howdy, boys!” before riding away in a limousine, Etheredge said. Days later, the airmen would stand around and sweat some more when the president left the state.

A UMass Amherst graduate and member of the class of 1976 at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Etheredge joined the Northampton firm Finn, Brownell, Gliserman and Washburn and won a 1979 case in the state’s highest court.

Northampton National Bank sued Massachusetts Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti after he determined that a $5 annual service fee for using the bank’s credit cards was illegal. Etheredge said he was “afraid of losing” as he, still a new lawyer and a young man, prepped and argued the case before the Supreme Judicial Court; the court decided in the bank’s favor, thereby allowing other issuers to charge similar annual fees.

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“It wasn’t necessarily significant in a broad sense, but it was consequential,” Etheredge said. “I don’t know if I had a ‘biggest’ case. For each of my clients, each case was the biggest case. They were terribly important to each of them.”

Over the decades, Etheredge represented a hodgepodge of businesses and developers as they sought city permits. His legal fingerprints are all over Northampton, including the NETA cannabis dispensary on Conz Street, the Coca-Cola bottling facility, the Brown Fine Arts Center and Ford Hall at Smith College, and the CVS Pharmacy locations on Main and King streets.

Open space

Etheredge sat on the Look Park board of trustees for 45 years and spent two decades as chairman. The park’s tree dedication program is named in his honor and he considers the park’s long-term forestry planning to be one of his lasting legacies.

“How could you not love the park? But the idea was to make sure you could always love the park,” he said while acknowledging, with self-deprecating laughter, that there were public controversies during his tenure. “I like to say I have a lot of accomplishments: I closed the swimming pool, I burned down the Pancake Cabin (restaurant), I put in a fee system. I mean, there were a lot of great things I did!”

On a serious note, he said, the success of his tenure and the work of the entire board is evident every day that visitors can enjoy the park.

“Yes, the pool disappeared, but we put in a water spray activity to take care of the young kids. That was free,” Etheredge said. “It doesn’t have to have lifeguards and stuff like that.”

The Pancake Cabin fire, in reality, had nothing to do with Etheredge. He was, however, directly involved in prosecuting many arson cases during his time with the district attorney’s office.

Ryan served as DA from 1983-88 and added Etheredge, his partner in duplicate bridge games at the Florence Civic Center, as his lead prosecutor. Ryan had sought hiring advice from Etheredge’s old court nemesis Francis X. Bellotti, and the attorney general told him to pick someone whose judgment he trusted completely.

For Ryan, that was Etheredge.

“I tried civil cases. I did forfeitures and stuff like that, but really what I was, was the chief administrative officer, and I tried arson cases because they were the most similar to (insurance fraud),” Etheredge said.

He was also director of the Greenfield Cooperative Bank from 1998-2020, and a trustee of Cooley Dickinson Hospital from 1978-2009. Former Northampton Mayor David Musante regularly appointed Etheredge to city commissions and advisory boards, including capital improvements and the airport commission.

‘What you give’

Service, he said, is what makes a person a member of the community. He said he learned that lesson from “the legendary Northamptonite” Kathleen “Kay” Sheehan, the late educator and community volunteer who amassed a seemingly endless resume that overlapped in several places with Etheredge’s.

“She always told me, ‘What makes you part of the community is not being born here, but what you give to the community,’” Etheredge recalled. “I felt wanted to be part of Northampton and I wanted to give something to the community. It gave me my profession, my living. I should do those things. But besides ‘should’ do it, I love doing it.”

Asked why he chose to settle down and set up shop in Northampton, Etheredge said, “Why would you live anywhere else?”

“When I interview new lawyers or I talk to clients who are moving here, I always ask them, ‘So why did you want to come here?’” he said. “It’s just to reaffirm my own decision. I want to congratulate them.”

He met his wife, Smith College alumna Susan Etheredge, while she was visiting her sister in town. She retired last year as an education and child study professor, and also served as dean of the college and vice president for campus life.

The couple’s daughter and grandchildren live in Texas.

Although Etheredge was involved in maintaining and growing physical spaces and organizations in the city, he said his legacy will be the mentoring he provided to others.

“My real legacy, I think, is the model I set for a lot of people of getting involved,” Etheredge said. “It’s not necessarily anything specific, but it’s being a good model for people. Being a good person.”

Brian Steele can be reached at]]>