Longtime state's attorney Boyle remembered as 'remarkable man'

Gary L. Smith

Residents of Putnam County and members of the area legal community see "a whole different era" coming after the death of Walter Durley Boyle, a lawyer who practiced almost up to the day of his recent death at 94.

Boyle, who served an unprecedented 40 years as state’s attorney and then practiced privately full-time for nearly 32 more, died Sunday after several days of hospitalization following an apparent stroke.

"You remember where you were on 9/11, you remember where you were when (President) John Kennedy was shot, and I think a lot of us here will always remember where we were when we learned Durley was gone," said current State’s Attorney Norman Raffety, who is in his own 28th year in that position after a childhood that included washing Boyle’s car in a driveway down the street from the courthouse.

"When I was a kid growing up, he was a role model. He was like a local hero" of the type that professional sports figures would often be today, Raffety said. "He was a remarkable man. It’s going to be a whole different era without him."

Boyle will be buried Wednesday after a service at a local church that was one of many beneficiaries of donations he and his late wife, Hazel Marie, made over many decades. One of the speakers will be 10th Judicial Circuit Judge Scott Shore of neighboring Granville, who was recruited into Boyle’s practice in 1977 and then watched his mentor continue to practice long after Shore moved to the bench in 1989.

"I think every year that we had him here with us has been a gift," Shore said as he joined a long line of people waiting to pay their respects Tuesday during a visitation.

Boyle was elected state’s attorney in 1936 before he was even licensed to practice law, an audacious step that required him to wage and win his first lawsuit against the incumbent he had beaten. His tenure in office, the longest in the state’s history, coupled with his continuing practice into his 90s later earned him a Ripley’s "Believe It or Not" comic panel about two years ago.

When asked at the time about the strip, Boyle emphasized he was not offended by the caricature.

"Absolutely not. I’ve had to have a pretty thick skin all these years," he said. "I think it’s funny."

Near the end of his career, Boyle went to the Illinois Supreme Court with a Marshall County class-action case in which he got a permanent injunction blocking farmers from running irrigation equipment through an old country cemetery outside Henry because of his conviction that "dead people have rights."

Tom Bogner, a soft-spoken junior high teacher and lead plaintiff in that case, said Boyle was a constant source of inspiration.

"I found that listening to Durley explain the law was like listening to Plato or Socrates," Bogner said. "I will greatly miss him, as will everyone who knew him."

Roger Bolin, who joined Boyle’s firm in 1979 and was his sole partner at the time of his death, said the cemetery case was one of many which Boyle litigated for little or no payment because he believed it was the right thing to do.

Bolin laughed when asked whether Boyle could be replaced.

"What do we say — that we want someone with 71 years of legal experience?" he asked. "You can’t replace a legend."

Gary L. Smith can be reached at (309) 686-3041 or