The poet and classics scholar Rolfe Humphries graduated from
Amherst College in 1915, taught secondary school Latin for about 32
years, and then returned to his (and my) alma mater in
1959 to teach English. Humphries, well regarded as a poet, mentored
many poets over the years, including Theodore Roethke. Humphries
was lauded by the poet W.H. Auden for Humphries' translation of
Virgil's "Aeneid," which Auden called "a service for which no
public reward could be too great." Humphries recognized the
inestimable value of mentoring and teaching in all its forms. When
Humphries retired from Amherst in 1966, he wrote a poem in tribute
to Jim Ostendarp, Amherst's head football coach from 1959 to 1991.
The poem, in its entirety, is well worth reading, but I quote just
the following excerpt:
One last remark: in art, in sport, we see
In application, this philosophy --
Any creative work is better done
In an environment of love and fun
Where a long run, or a good story, seems
Not just one man's achievement, but the team's.
It's all a game -- sure, sure, but what the hell?
Why not, while we're at it, do it well?
And so, from Amherst near and Amherst far,
We thank you, Jim, for what you do and are.
Humphries retired before I was able to take a course from him, but
I did get to know Jim Ostendarp -- "the Darp" -- who became, over
time, a legend at Amherst. The Darp's legend was not as a great
coach, which he was, but as a great teacher, like Humphries. In
addition to coaching varsity football, the Darp coached freshman
lacrosse. I was a lesser light on an otherwise pretty good freshman
team. My modest playing time was consistent with my very modest
On an early season road trip, we stopped at an inn for lunch.
Shortly after we were seated, the Darp announced that surely
someone on the team must be able to play the piano. My teammates
pointed at me, and, like a Greek chorus, chanted "Stump!" (MBA past
president Dick Campbell previously revealed my college nickname
during his tenure.)
I thus was dispatched by the Darp to the grand piano and played
"Cool and Caressing," written by the late jazz pianist and
composer, Billy Taylor. Like a golfer recalling every hole played
and stroke taken, I can remember lots of tunes I have played under
a variety of circumstances. That Taylor piece was the only one I
could play then as a solo that I thought was worth listening to.
The Darp liked what he heard, and that is how we bonded -- over
music, not lacrosse. I hasten to add that my lacrosse playing time
did not increase in the slightest.
Jim Ostendarp enjoyed taking his players to the Amherst art
building to look at and discuss art works. He loved listening to
and discussing classical music. But make no mistake about it: as a
highly competitive former New York Giants football player, he
understood what it took to win and expected only the best from his
players. Always the teacher, he famously rebuffed ESPN's efforts to
televise the 100th annual football game between Amherst and
Williams. In explaining his decision, the Darp told The Wall
Street Journal that Amherst was in the education business, not
the entertainment business.
After his death in 2005, when a memorial service was held at
Amherst College, countless Amherst graduates, players and
non-players alike, joined the celebration of his life, such was his
impact on so many of us.
I have been fortunate to have many lawyers and judges positively
influence me during my career. The late Joe Casey of Lynn, a superb
courtroom advocate and gentleman, helped me and many others,
complimenting what he saw as good work in the courtroom and
providing constructive criticism when he saw something less.
Likewise, the late John Jennings of Salem, a trial lawyer of great
renown, always made time to take a young lawyer aside to offer
encouragement and advice. So, too, did the late Frank Swift of
Boston, a superb cross-examiner who was very helpful to me in an
early jury trial I had, providing me with invaluable advice and
encouragement. The late Superior Court Judge Edward Bennett was
exceedingly generous to me and other young lawyers.
I cite these individuals because they, like Rolfe Humphries and
Jim Ostendarp, got it. I could cite many others, including lawyers
and judges still active, but the list would be too long.
I also will cite a non-lawyer, my father, an engineer, inventor
and scientist, who could be difficult.
Some months after his death 10 years ago, we had a memorial
service for him in Buffalo, and my middle brother and I delivered
some remarks. Neither of us had seen or discussed each other's
remarks beforehand. From conversations at the reception after the
service I know that many people in attendance wondered if we had
the same father. Our remarks were very different, with a notable
exception. The common thread was, if something is worth doing, as
Rolfe Humphries said, "Sure, sure, but what the hell? Why not,
while we're at it, do it well?" My father actually might have said
it that way, especially the "what the hell" part, albeit far less
poetically than Humphries.
Teachers, coaches and mentors have a lasting impact, not because
of the subject or the sport. The subject or the sport is
incidental. What has primacy is the doing -- doing whatever and
doing it well.
It has been said of artists that part of their motivation to
create is that the art they create will outlive them, thus
providing a kind of immortality. I think that kind of motivation
can apply to pretty much any endeavor. Doing the best we can and
sharing that attitude with others provides the opportunity to
create something that will last beyond any of us.
All of us, as lawyers, have the capability to do the best we can,
regardless of our particular ability. All of us can help and
encourage others to do the same. By doing these simple things we
can make a difference every day we inhabit this planet and
potentially a long time after that.
Just as Rolfe Humphries said to Jim Ostendarp, we all should want
and be able to say to each other: from our profession near and our
profession far, thanks for what we do and are.
That's a pretty nice objective and would make for a decent legacy
in the bargain -- for all of us.