Editor's Note: Kurt Tunnell's legacy lives in people

Katy Smith

Integrity. Compassion. Selflessness. Humility. Grace.

Does this sound like the playbook for business success? Perhaps it should, because the late Kurt Tunnell was a mammoth success, and these are the words one friend uses to describe him. The former managing partner of Bricker & Eckler, one of the region’s largest law firms, was a titan in government relations, having served as chief legal counsel to former Gov. George Voinovich and Ohio counsel to President George W. Bush during his 2004 campaign. Tunnell was a key player in passage of tort reform in Ohio, putting the state ahead of its peers. He brought together advanced energy companies to advocate for adoption of renewable energy standards, always working fairly on both sides of the political aisle, those who knew him say. The list of his professional accomplishments could go on for pages.

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But it was the work Tunnell did as a champion of people that loved ones and colleagues say they will remember the most. Tunnell died at age 58 on Aug. 31 after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle, something he loved doing during his “second half.” With the urge to take a new path for his remaining years, Tunnell had resigned from Bricker and left the practice of law. Among other projects, including aiding Gov. Mike DeWine’s transition team, Tunnell’s deep commitment to his Christian faith led him to become intricately involved in the development of a self-sustaining farm in Malawi, Africa, through his church, Northwest Bible Church.

Tunnell had “a rare combination of pure intellect with strategy and the skill of relationships,” says Jim Flynn, who succeeded him as managing partner at Bricker and worked with Tunnell for nearly 30 years. He had a magical way of making every person feel like they were important—“He was relentless in trying to seek out the details of your life and connect with you personally,” another colleague says. Helping legal professionals, especially women and people of color, advance in their careers was one of his callings. He also was known for a voracious work ethic, which was ingrained in him from a childhood spent on a Nebraska farm growing corn and soybeans. Tunnell rose at 3 a.m., often sending emails through the dark morning hours and catching up on correspondence. Those whose lives he touched say they treasure their stacks of hand-written notes from him. “The fact that everybody saved them speaks volumes to what was written in those notes,” one Bricker partner says. “It wasn’t just happy to meet you or thanks for inviting me to such and such. It was heartfelt, direct, very, special words that people cherished.

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.