Robert Steed, 79: Attorney, humorist; with him, ‘It was always fun’

Doc Schneider recalls meeting Robert L. “Bob” Steed, a senior partner at the prominent law firm King & Spalding, when Schneider was a second-year Mercer University law student on the hunt for a summer job.

In one interview, he faced a distinguished-looking attorney, meticulously dressed in a navy blue, pinstripe suit with an early shock of white hair and big glasses. Schneider readied himself to be grilled on municipal bonds or, perhaps, his law school curriculum. Instead, Steed asked him to name his three favorite books and movies. Then he asked if Schneider had ever eaten Brunswick stew.

“His dialogue was like no other,” said Schneider, now a senior partner at the firm who became a longtime friend. “Here was this man who was very well regarded and the top bond lawyer in the South, and he made people laugh. He had this dry humor and was very, very quick.”

Steed, 79, a senior partner at King & Spalding, Mercer University trustee and well-known humorist, died at his Atlanta home June 4 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. A memorial service will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at Northside United Methodist Church, 2799 Northside Drive N.W.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a memorial gift to Mercer University for the Steed Scholarship Fund, 1501 Mercer University Drive, Macon, Ga. 31207.

Steed was born in Augusta, to Robert Pentecost Steed and Doris Roop Steed; grew up in Bowdon, and earned bachelor and law degrees from Mercer University.

In the early 1960s, he was law clerk to Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carlton Mobley. Steed served two decades on Mercer’s board of trustees, including one term as chairman. The lobby of Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law building is named for him.

He joined King & Spalding in 1962, as its 19th lawyer. The firm now has more 900 around the world. Steed served in the public-finance practice group and was bond counsel to Georgia and various cities, counties and government authorities throughout the Southeast.

Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn said in a statement that Steed always lit up the room, wherever he was.

“No matter the circumstances, he brought perspective, joy, laughter and fun to the occasion or the issue,” he said. ” Bob breathed heart and soul into the legal profession, the world of art, and the building of a great university. No one was ever more fun than Bob. He never cursed the darkness, but always lit the bright candle of laughter.”

Outside the office, Steed’s multiple passions included art, music, family and friends.

Beautiful artwork was displayed throughout Steed’s office, Schneider said. He was a close friend of artsts Ross Rossin and Steve Penley, whose work he saw at a restaurant and quickly embraced.

Rossin said he met Steed shortly after moving to the U.S. from Bulgaria. “He began like a father figure to me without any second thought” said Rossin. “His friendship and love and caring was unconditional.”

He was a humor columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. He also wrote several books, including “Willard Lives!”, “Lucid Intervals” and “Money, Power and Sex (A Self-Help Guide for All Ages).”

“He packed in a lot of life,” said artist Lu Steed, his wife of 58 years. “Bob was like a whirlwind. He was a really energetic person and he did everything. It was always fun.”

She recalled the many parties and concerts they attended. “We would go see a gospel singer or a club singer and he would just invite them back to our house.” He knew Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers, she said.

In a column in The Atlanta Constitution called “Willie, Jimmy, and Me”, Steed writes about a Willie Nelson concert:

“When we reached the Omni I was literally astounded. It looked like a direct hit on the O.K. Corral. Never in recorded history have so many so far East dressed so far West. As far as the eye could see there were young bankers, transmission specialists, Big Star produce managers, insurance salesmen, and auto parts clerks all struggling mightily for a look that could best be characterized as ‘Charlie Daniels meets the Sons of the Pioneers’.”

Once, Steed called to tell his wife he was bringing a guest home. It turned out to be folk singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary. He had met Travers, with whom he shared a birthday, after a concert. “He was always inviting people back to our house,” Lu Steed said. “I never knew what the next week would bring. Our life was always full of surprises. It was just an open door with him.”

Daughter Georgia Vance said her father “was on all of the time. He made everything fun. He told great stories at dinner. He would play games on the car on road trips. He was always upbeat and funny, but he was serious too, like with grades.

“He was such a great all around friend, father and attorney. He was really something special.”

In addition to his wife, Steed is survived by three children: Joshua (Robbin Conklin Steed) Pentecost Steed of Sharpsburg; Georgia (James Burton Vance) Steed Vance of Atlanta; Nona (David Allan Bickers) Steed Bickers of Atlanta; 10 grandchildren ; and a brother, Michael P. (Cheryl ) Steed of Bowdon. A son, Robert Lee Steed Jr., preceded him in death.