A law career and altruism - both defined by deeds
By Sally A. Downey
Inquirer Staff Writer
William H. Eastburn III, 75, of Doylestown, a lawyer and humanitarian, died of cancer on March 7 at home.
Mr. Eastburn founded a drug-treatment program for adolescents, initiated a project to improve the lives of American Indians, established a Katrina relief project, and fought for gun-control legislation after he was shot.
"When Bill saw a need," said his wife, Constance Allen Eastburn, "he instinctively stepped forward to strategize how best to do something extremely effective to help the situation."
In 1971, after learning that addicted adolescents in Bucks County had no place to receive help and were being jailed instead, Mr. Eastburn cofounded Today Inc., a drug-rehabilitation center in Middletown.
He initiated Americans for Native Americans in 1991 after a chance meeting with a Catholic bishop from New Mexico. The bishop told Mr. Eastburn and his wife that 17 Native Americans had frozen to death the previous winter because they lacked blankets and warm clothing.
The couple organized a drive to collect 2,000 blankets and founded ANA to raise money for flood, clothing, medical supplies, and personal hygiene products. A full-time coordinator was hired to ensure that donated goods were distributed to the neediest, and ANA set up a program with Doylestown Hospital to train American Indian nurses. The Eastburns donated a 28-foot motor home to ANA for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting room in New Mexico.
Mr. Eastburn's mantra - "Take a negative and turn it into a positive" - was demonstrated in July 1993, when a mentally unstable former client shot him in the chest in the parking lot of his Doylestown office. The bullet pierced his heart, hit a lung, cracked two ribs, and lodged just beneath his sternum.
After Mr. Eastburn recovered, he founded the Voice of Reason, an organization committed to reducing violence without infringing on personal liberties. He also was chairman of the Bucks County Commission on Violence Prevention.
He already was immersed in several humanitarian projects when, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Scenes of the devastation kept Mr. Eastburn up at night, his wife said. With Mike Scobey, publisher of the Intelligencer newspaper, and Chalfont businessman Robert L. Byers Sr., he founded the Bucks-Mont Katrina Fund, which raised more than $2 million in cash and services to rebuild the towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi.
Mr. Eastburn and his wife met in New York at the Biltmore Hotel, then a gathering spot for college students. "A tall handsome stranger approached me," she said, "and knelt down on one knee and asked me to have a drink." She learned he was a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was planning to transfer.
Their first date was on her 21st birthday, and they married in 1960. Two years later, they bought an 18th-century farm outside Doylestown, which they restored and filled with five children and a menagerie of sheep, goats, a quarterhorse, cats, donkeys and several Airedales. They often opened their home for fund-raisers for charities they supported.
Mr. Eastburn grew up in Wayne and in Rhode Island. In the summer of 1958, as a lifeguard on a Rhode Island beach, he saved four people caught in a strong riptide. The governor cited him for his heroism.
He graduated from the Mount Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, Mass., and earned a bachelor's degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He was very proud that three of his children, a son-in-law, and a daughter-in-law attended Trinity, his wife said.
After earning a law degree at Penn in 1959, he joined the firm of Eastburn & Gray in Doylestown, and eventually developed a specialty in land-use and real estate law.
"Nobody I know lives closer to how God wants us to live," said William Schwab, a trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Schwab treated Mr. Eastburn after he was shot, and the two men and their wives became good friends.
"Bill taught me to put good into everything I do," Schwab said. "He was the best of men."
Mr. Eastburn was a member of Doylestown Presbyterian Church, where he founded a men's Bible study group. The group, nicknamed "The Dawn Patrol," had met every morning at 7 for the last 27 years.
Last year, he received the Citizen of Distinction Award from the Bucks County Board of Commissioners.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Eastburn is survived by sons William IV and Christopher; daughters Page O'Rourke, Holly MacEwan and Brooke; his mother, Nancy W. Eastburn; 12 grandchildren; and a sister.
An ecumenical memorial service will begin at 3 p.m. April 4 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 235 E. State St., Doylestown.
Donations may be made to the Salvation Army/Bucks-Mont Katrina Animal Center, attention Collette McBratney, 901 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19123.
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