‘The public was his family:’ Former Flint clerk, ombudsman Terry Bankert dies at 70

FLINT, MI — Former Flint city clerk and ombudsman Terry Bankert has died at age 70 following a year-long battle with brain cancer that left him without his sight for the last year of his life.

Bankert, who practiced family and bankruptcy law in Flint, served as the city clerk from 1983 until 1987 and as Flint ombudsman from 1987 until 1994. He was the executive director of the Democratic Party of Genesee County from 1975 until 1982.

“He loved being ombudsman because there was something different every day,” said Lynn Sorenson, Bankert’s wife of 27 years.

Even after leaving his city government positions, she said, her husband continued to stay informed and was interested in Flint politics and government.

“He rolled his sleeves up and … he never quit,” Sorenson said. “Every night of the year he was going somewhere.”

Flint Journal files show that in 1997, Bankert, concerned that not enough people were running for Flint City Council, held a free campaign workshop to answer questions from novice candidates such as how to get voter registration lists, how to target likely voters and who to contact for campaign contributions.

Two years earlier, he did the same thing for school board and judicial candidates, telling a reporter, “The more people involved in the process, the better the process is.”

Sorenson said her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2020. After surgery, she said, he lost his eyesight and was forced to stop practicing law, something he had done since 1994.

Sorenson said her husband grew up in foster care, possibly leading him to focus on family law, and the couple was the “unofficial” foster parents of Patrick Powell, who worked for the family.

“He didn’t have a family,” Sorenson said of her husband. “The public was his family.”

Former Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur Busch described Bankert as a civic activist and a “lawyer for the working class.”

“He was a good advocate and (was) respected by the legal community,” Busch said in a message to MLive-The Flint Journal. “In our early days in Flint activism, the 1980′s, we worked for change at City Hall.

“In today’s world, his work on police abuse cases, mismanagement of public funds and reform is in vogue. In days past, he was a pioneer for good government ethics … He had much to give the community,” Busch said. “I think history will show he affected government more than is noticed today.”

Sorenson said a celebration of Bankert’s life has been scheduled from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at the Greater Flint Arts Council, 816 Saginaw St.

She said some of Bankert’s art — paintings of abstract faces — will be displayed at the memorial.

Sorenson said the painting was something her husband took up in 2003 at her urging after she noticed the quality of drawings he did on his desk pad.

“It was a source of peace and interest for him,” she said.

Bankert’s family is suggesting donations to three organizations in lieu of flowers — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint and Genesee County, Pets in Peril, and the Flint Eastside Mission.

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