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Beatles break-up attorney, Aon chief counsel

Raymond Skilling

Raymond Skilling

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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:18AM

John Lennon was one of the most famous men across the universe when attorney Raymond I. Skilling met the Beatles and asked the lads to introduce themselves to him — and explain which instrument each of them played.

The question annoyed Lennon, who almost walked out of the meeting with Mr. Skilling, one of many attorneys involved with the Beatles during the era of their break-up.

“John Lennon got really upset with the question and wanted to leave, but someone talked him into staying,” said Mr. Skilling’s son, Keith.

When Paul McCartney squared off against the other three Beatles, Mr. Skilling was called to attend a late-night meeting with Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison; the raptor-like music manager Allen Klein, and Beatle consorts Yoko Ono and Maureen Starkey, according to the Peter Doggett book, “You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup.”

“Dad would periodically get called in the middle of the night to work on Beatles law stuff,” Keith Skilling said. “They were important enough clients to get a lawyer out of bed.”

It must have been a surreal experience for the confirmed opera buff. An attorney at a stiff-upper-lip London law firm, Mr. Skilling was also a former Fulbright scholar and a debater at the Queen’s University of Belfast.

Mr. Skilling, 73, died Oct. 10 in London. He was the longtime chief counsel for Aon Corporation, which happened to be headed by his brother-in-law. His second wife, the late Alice Welsh Skilling, was a sister of Shirley Welsh Ryan, wife of Aon founder Patrick Ryan.

He was born in the town of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. His father was a civil servant, and the family eventually moved to Belfast.

Mr. Skilling earned a law degree from Queen’s University, where he was active with Literific, the student debate society. He won a Fulbright Scholarship that enabled him to obtain a doctorate from the University of Chicago Law School.

Mr. Skilling began his legal career in 1963 at the London firm of Clifford-Turner, now known as Clifford Chance. There he handled business for musical superstars a bit different from the Beatles: violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and conductor Sir Charles Mackerras.

In 1974, Mr. Skilling opened a Chicago branch of Clifford-Turner. Its client list included Combined Insurance Co. of America. He helped oversee Combined Insurance’s 1982 merger with Ryan Insurance Group, which evolved into Aon. Mr. Skilling joined Aon, and was its executive vice president general counsel for more than 20 years, according to the law firm that represents his estate.

Mr. Skilling showed his son the world. He took him on trips to a South African game reserve, and a chateau in France. Once, they attended the opera “Aida” in a spectacular production in a Roman amphitheater, complete with live elephants.

He particularly enjoyed listening to the “King of the High Cs,’’ tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle.”

His home was filled with so many books, they farmed their way out of bookcases and wound up in stacks across the floor. He always encouraged Keith to read.

If his homework was finished, and he had nothing to do, Mr. Skilling would urge his son, “Read a newspaper.”

Mr. Skilling also supported Art Resources in Teaching (A.R.T.), a program that benefits Chicago Public Schools.

A jovial man with a soft blend of British Isles accents, Mr. Skilling was nonetheless proper. When someone at Aon asked him about casual Fridays, Mr. Skilling said, “But there are already two days a week when staff can wear jeans.”

He meant Saturday and Sunday.

In 2006, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire “for services to UK and U.S. business relations,” according to Reed Smith. He was on the board of the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Skilling is also survived by his brother, Kenneth, and his companion, Sarah Adlam. A memorial is planned at 3 p.m. Nov. 13 at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church, 1424 Dearborn Parkway, Chicago.

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