Bangor attorney Sam Lanham dies after battle with cancer

Posted June 20, 2013, at 12:53 p.m.
Last modified June 21, 2013, at 7:51 p.m.
Sam Lanham
Sam Lanham

BANGOR, Maine — Well-known attorney and supporter of the arts Samuel Lanham Jr. died Wednesday night, according to his family.

Lanham was with his wife and sons at the family’s home in Rockport when he died after a battle with mesothelioma, a form of cancer. He was 61.

Lanham’s wife, Stephanie Laite Lanham, wrote in a Facebook message Friday that she wanted to warn people about mesothelioma. “It is a little known disease and it’s important to get the word out about it. Early diagnosis can at least perhaps buy time,” she wrote, noting that her husband had a chronic cough that went unchecked too long.

“[I’m] in mourning, as we all are,” Brett Baber, a partner at Lanham-Blackwell law firm, said Thursday.

Lanham specialized in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation, personal injury, medical malpractice and consumer litigation, representing clients in Maine and around the nation, according to his firm’s website.

Baber described Lanham has a “legendary lawyer.”

“He had a wonderful, kind way with everybody he met,” he said. “He was able to translate that to a national practice helping people of all walks of life with their own legal issues, particularly defective drugs and defective medical products in his last 10 years.”

Lanham was president of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra board of directors from 2008 to 2011.

Current board president Joyce Clark Sarnacki served as vice president under Lanham.

“There are no words to express our appreciation for his service, his leadership, his friendship and his commitment to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, as well as us connected to it,” Clark Sarnacki said on Thursday. “He will be greatly missed and surely remembered.”

Lanham’s professional highlights include representing H. Ross Perot during Perot’s 1996 presidential campaign, serving as national trial and ballot access counsel. He was successful in getting Perot onto the ballot in several states, said Baber. Lanham directed litigation against the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Presidential Debates arising from Perot’s exclusion from debates with President Bill Clinton and then-U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, according to the firm’s website.

Lanham also gained notice for his work on national tobacco cases. Lanham’s case against Philip Morris, alleging deceptive and fraudulent marketing of its Marlboro Lights cigarettes since the 1970s, was heard by United States Supreme Court in 2008 and decided favorably, according to the firm’s website.

He was involved in the national class action litigation against the diet drug fenfluramine/phentermine, also known as Fen-Phen, said Baber.

“He was one of the first lawyers in Maine to actively represent people, mostly women, who were injured by the drug in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” said Baber.

Lanham’s personable ways were exemplified in that case, he said.

“There was a lady from Illinois who was referred to him,” Baber said. “She lived out in the middle of the corn fields in Illinois. He got on a plane, rented a car and visited her at her house to talk about her medical condition. That shows you the lengths he would go to help people.”

Bangor City Councilor and attorney Joe Baldacci said Lanham helped him as a young lawyer.

“He was a good guy. He was very easy to talk to,” Baldacci said. “Even when I was a younger attorney and he was a much more senior attorney, he was willing to talk and share advice and guidance. He really was a respected member of the Maine State Bar Association.”

Fellow Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague described Lanham as a “complete class act.”

“He loved Bangor. He wore that on his sleeves,” he said. “He was a big supporter of the arts. He was just a positive person.”

Sprague said Lanham could also be quite convincing when trying to lure companies to Bangor.

“He had the intellectual heft, but he also had the personal touch to get people on his side. He was a very reasonable and very balanced person,” he said.

He served on the international Board of Directors for Up With People for 10 years and was on the board of the Bangor Halfway House for 15 years.

Lanham performed in a number of plays in the Bangor area, said Baber.

“He was an avid singer. He enjoyed performing in the theater,” he said.

“Sam Lanham was a true champion of the arts,” Bari Newport, artistic director for the Penobscot Theatre Company, said in a statement. “He advocated passionately and tirelessly for the continued fiscal and artistic health of the Bangor Arts community. Whenever I saw Sam, I felt as if I had reached a wise and steady life-preserver — giving me breath and perspective before pushing me off, reinvigorated, into the sea once more. A mammoth loss, indeed.”

His contribution to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra was “incomparable,” said Clark Sarnacki.

“He was more than a board member to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra,” she said. “He was an advocate, he was passionate and made a huge difference in so many aspects.”

Lanham was born in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1975. He earned his law degree at Wake Forest University School of Law in 1980, according to the firm’s website.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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