Minnesota Law

Fall 2021
For the Record

Impact of Giving

A major gift from Bill Drake ’66 honors Professor David Weissbrodt and advances the work of the Human Rights Center

Bill Drake ’66

To say that Bill Drake ’66 has spent time abroad is an under- statement. The Minnesota Law alum did military service in Italy, completed an internship in Japan with the Mitsui Bank after law school, and attended the London School of Economics, spending most of his career as an executive and legal counsel for Medtronic, a company that does business all over the world. 

Looking back, Drake credits that international exposure for instilling in him a passion for human rights and a strong desire to see his home country advance them. “I think that America has been a beacon and example of human rights and civil rights,” he says. “I’m proud of that; I want us to continue that tradition. This is where my heart is.” 

Drake, who now lives part time in Minnesota and part time in San Francisco, recently made a generous gift to support student internships, research, teaching, and advocacy at the Law School’s Human Rights Center (HRC). The gift, made to the Weissbrodt Human Rights Center Fund, will help the HRC address real-world challenges and equip future lawyers with the skills to defend human rights.

The fund is named for Regents Professor Emeritus David Weissbrodt, who founded the HRC—one of the first human rights centers of its kind—more than 30 years ago. The center has since served as a model for programs at other universities. Drake says Weissbrodt is a pioneer in human rights. 

“I really want to recognize Professor Weissbrodt,” he says. “David started from scratch and created this center, which has been huge in my mind. It is now recognized as one of the leading human rights centers based in a law school in the country.” 

Editor's Note: Professor Weissbrodt passed away on Nov. 11 at the age of 77. Learn more about his life an legacy.

Drake has stayed connected to Minnesota Law in many ways over the years, being president of his class, organizing reunions, serving as a member of the board of advisors, and routinely giving to the Law School as a member of its Lockhart Club society. 

“This just helps to advance the idea of an international structure that can hold someone accountable for human rights violations. There’s so much to be done. We’re just starting to scratch the surface.”
Bill Drake '66

After retiring, Drake made his first major gift specifically to support the HRC. He endowed three fellowships in 2008 to allow students to get hands-on training and experience working for high-impact organizations. Drake named these fellowships in honor of his friend Prem Dobias, whose contributions to human rights he revered. As a young lawyer in Prague in 1938, Dobias helped smuggle Jews through Slovakia and Hungary to safety. When he was discovered, he was sent to an Austrian concentration camp. He survived the experience and afterward collaborated with fellow survivor Simon Wiesenthal to bring war criminals to justice. 

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, faculty director of the Human Rights Center, Regents Professor, and Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council, says Drake’s choice to honor Dobias in 2008 and Weissbrodt with his recent gift comes as no surprise. “He is a warm and selfless person,” she says. “It is a testament to him as a friend that he has given both of these very generous gifts in the name of another person who was very meaningful to him.”Drake has long been a stalwart supporter of the HRC and its leaders, Ní Aoláin says. He is profoundly committed to the center’s work, keeping an ongoing, intellectual interest in its activities and students. The impact of his generosity, she says, stands to set the HRC up for continued leadership in human rights, both in Minnesota and internationally. The HRC, for example, created the first digital human rights library that is freeto access across the world. 

Katie Smith,3L, interned at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. She was able to join Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin at the U.N.'s 27th Annual Meeting of Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Chairs of Working Groups this summer.

“This gift is going to ensure the Human Rights Center can continue its longstanding work of supporting and enabling our students and our faculty to be engaged in the burning human rights issues locally and nationally,” she says. “At the same time, it allows the center to continue to do that essential international work and bring the values and legal expertise of our faculty and our students to the world stage.” Drake sees his gift as the foundation for further support. He hopes it will inspire other alumni to contribute to the HRC, honoring the impact Professor Weissbrodt had on the thousands of Minnesota Law graduates he taught while also advancing the center’s work as part of a burgeoning global effort to ensure human rights.

"The international laws that are available are all very embryonic,” he says. “This just helps to advance the idea of an international structure that can hold someone accountable for human rights violations. There’s so much to be done. We’re just starting to scratch the surface.” 

Kevin Coss is a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities.

The Weissbrodt Human Rights Fund supports the work of the Human Rights Center, including research, outreach, events, student internships, staffing, and other programmatic needs. MAKE A GIFT