Thinker, reader, and Jeopardy aficionado Michael E. McLachlan passed away June 23, 2021 from the fight between his heart, his kidneys and the rest of his body. Born in Dover, DE on April 18, 1946, Michael was the second of six children born to U.S. Air Force Colonel Joseph and Audrey McLachlan. They spent their childhoods living on various bases around the world, giving Michael a sense of global awareness and the value of friendship, no matter how long he knew a person.
At six months old, the McLachlans moved to Munich, Germany, and during the next five years they lived in San Antonio, TX, Dayton, OH and Pittsburg, PA, where Michael attended the first grade. He continued his schooling in Arlington, VA and Tampa, FL. In 1959, the family moved to Zaragoza, Spain, where he attended the 8th through 11th grades. While there, he developed deep and enduring friendships, which he maintained the rest of his life.
The family moved to Lincoln, NE, in 1963, where Michael graduated from St. Pius X High School. He attended the University of Nebraska for one year until August 1965, when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His life changed after spending a year fighting in Viet Nam, while assigned to the 3rd Anti-Tank Battalion in Danang, Phu Bai, Quantri Province and JJ Carroll Artillery Base in the DMZ. He was one of a few survivors of a plane crash, and was released on April 10, 1967 to return home. He was stationed in the Marine Barracks in Portsmouth, VA, discharged in August 1967.
He was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, and Navy Commendation Medal.
He moved to Colorado with his best friend from Spain, Ray Rhodes, to attend Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo, where he graduated cum laude in 1970 with a degree in history. Michael then attended the University of Arizona School of Law, and was Associate Editor for the Law Review. He graduated in 1973, then felt blessed to become a law clerk for Colorado Supreme Court Justice Edward C. Day. In 1974, he moved to Durango to be the Assistant District Attorney under Jim Childress, where he honed his trial skills.
He left the DA’s office in May 1976 to work with Bruce Kilpatrick, then joined the law firm of Hamilton Sherman Hamilton & Shand, where he worked for 19 years. There, he did all types of litigation and criminal work, divorces and insurance defense. When he left in 1995, the firm was known as Hamilton Shand & McLachlan.
Michael formed a partnership with Michael Goldman in 1995 as La Plata County Attorneys. He then joined Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar’s office in 1998 as Solicitor General. While there, he was honored to make oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hill vs. Colorado, which he won in June 2000. He then returned to Durango, where he formed his own law firm with Marla Underell and Jim Whitley, and practiced for the next 20 years. He took involuntary retirement in late 2019 due to health reasons.
Michael was elected as a Colorado State Representative for District 59, where he proudly served for two years. During his impressive legal career, Michael was chair of the Colorado Supreme Court Grievance Committee; a 15-year recipient of the Best Lawyers of America award; a Fellow in the International Society of Barristers; consistently received the highest professional rating by Martindale and Hubble; a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, recognized for 57 civil jury trials brought to a verdict; a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society; and a 12-year member of the Judicial Performance Commission for the Sixth Judicial District. He was also a 30-year member of the Durango Evening Rotary Club, where he was President and named a five-time Paul Harris Fellow.
He worked on the Durango City Charter Commission in 1977, on the state civil jury instruction committee for eight years and on the Southern Ute Tribe-State of Colorado Environmental Control Commission.
Michael married Dixie Self in 1968; they divorced in 1971. He married Deborah Cowan in 1975; they divorced in 1981. He married Barbara Hall in 1984; “The greatest thing in my life. Best thing that ever happened,” he said often. He is preceded in death by his father, Joseph, and mother, Audrey McLachlan; brother Joe McLachlan; sisters, Peggy Applegate and Patty McLachlan; and nephew, Coval Johnson. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; son Brian (Tracy); daughter, Kate; brother Tom (Rita); half-sister Meeghan Carter (Les); stepmother, Nadine McLachlan; and numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 5:30 p.m. August 7, 2021 at the Powerhouse Museum, because hugs and uproarious laughs on Michael’s behalf will be warranted. Donations may be made in Michael’s honor to the La Plata County Boys and Girls Club or Planned Parenthood.
Michael liked to quote Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better, The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”