From Latin teacher to environmental advocate, Edward Witte can trace his professional path back to his childhood.
“I was born in the 1960s, when we had our first Earth Day,” he said. “That was something my family paid attention to.”
His family’s environmental awareness laid the foundation for his role as an attorney, whether he’s tracking who dumped toxic chemicals at a school site or representing an energy company in a first-of-its-kind case alleging noise from a wind farm is a health hazard.
But, he said, it was his love of language that led Witte to Milwaukee, where he planted his legal roots, first with Foley & Lardner LLP then with Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan and, starting this week, with Godfrey & Kahn.
A Latin major as an undergraduate, Witte taught seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders for three years in Fitchburg, Mass. In his second year, he met a teaching assistant named Mary.
“We were engaged six months later, and we’re still married almost 30 years later,” Witte said. “She was from Milwaukee.”
They both loved teaching. But, Witte said, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Somebody’s going to have to get a job.’”
So Witte went to law school, earning both his law degree at Vermont Law School, an alma mater he shares with colleague Ben Grawe.
“Frankly, Ned changed the way I practiced law,” said Grawe, a fellow environmental lawyer. “He’s a wonderful mentor, always fair and attentive to the people he works with. And he has this measured approach. He’s easily the coolest head in the room.”
Grawe said he also admires Witte’s commitment to family and the community, something Witte said wouldn’t be possible without his wife.
She stayed home to raise their four sons. They volunteer with the COA Youth & Family Centers and Urban Ecology Center. Her advocacy has inspired his involvement, Witte said, even when her passion for community service led him to reconsider his move to Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan one day before his interview.
“She said, ‘I’ve got it. I know what I want to do. I want to go to graduate school. I want to get my master’s degree in urban studies. We can afford that, right?’” Witte said. “I said, ‘Of course we can. But then I can’t afford to leave Foley.’ And she said, ‘No! You’ve got to.’ … That was the point when Mary and I started walking on parallel paths, trying with every little step to make a difference collectively.”