William Brennan showed up regularly at the law firm that bore his name, even though he officially retired in 1998.

He would read the newspapers, set up a golf game, take part in the defense in an occasional trial and talk with the younger lawyers about their cases, offering advice from his years as a civil trial lawyer, including defending insurance companies on liability claims.

“He told me his retirement years were his happiest,” fellow attorney Robert Cannella said.

Brennan, 80, died Thursday of complications following heart surgery, said his daughter, Kaela, of Minneapolis. She and his wife of 46 years, Kathleen or “Kate,” and sons Bill of Omaha, Jim of New York City and Patrick of Napa, California, were at his bedside. He also is survived by three grandchildren.

Brennan graduated from Creighton Prep, Creighton University and Creighton School of Law. After serving in the U.S. Army’s judge advocate general’s corps, in 1963 he joined the law firm that became Fitzgerald, Schorr, Barmettler & Brennan.

“He was an excellent lawyer,” colleague Cannella said. “He was always willing to share ideas and teach the younger folks. He was an invaluable source to those of us who continued practicing. He was a good mentor to the younger people, including me when I was younger.”

Brennan succeeded Lyle Strom as head of the firm’s litigation department when Strom became a U.S. District Court judge. Among those Brennan mentored was William Riley, now chief judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kaela Brennan said her father loved the intellectual challenge of practicing law. For the younger lawyers, she said, “it was a great treat when they had a chance to go to court and watch my dad or help with any part of the arguments.”

Besides a strong work ethic, she said, “he also had a great sense of humor. He had this great, bigger-than-life laugh. He really enjoyed being with people and was very close to his family.”

Brennan was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a peer-selected group limited to the top 1 percent of trial lawyers in the state who are selected for their legal expertise, ethical standards, professionalism, character and other qualities.

Attorney Charles Gotch, a golf partner for more than 40 years, said Brennan survived a heart attack in 1993 in the locker room at Happy Hollow Country Club. After bypass surgery, he followed a strict diet and exercised regularly and resumed golfing, hitting his fourth hole-in-one just last June and playing his last round two weeks before having his last surgery.

“My husband was very competitive in the courtroom and also very competitive on the golf course,” Kate Brennan said, usually playing a complex partners game on the course. “For some reason it relaxed him. He loved it.”

Brennan attended Mass daily at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, where a funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today.

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