November 16, 1983
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: It’s my pleasure as Chief Justice, on behalf of the Court, to call this session, which is an informal session, to honor our old friend Justice OTIS SMITH. I am particularly pleased to see such a large turnout in honor of him.
I think this is like the time when Jack Kennedy looked around and said there’s never been so many illustrious people gathered together at one time in the White House since Thomas Jefferson sat down to dinner alone. I think this is an illustrious group, and we should get on with the business.
The first order is to call on the President of the State Bar, Joel M. Boyden, to make his remarks.
MR. BOYDEN: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. May it please the Court, ladies and gentlemen who are all honored guests, and of course particularly the honored guest: As a representative of the more than 22,000 lawyers of the State Bar of Michigan, I’m particularly pleased to be here today for this ceremony.
Michigan has enjoyed statehood for some 147 years. During that time 97 men and 3 women have served in our highest judicial post here on the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan. Portraits of some 64 of those justices now grace these walls.
Since re-establishment of the custom of presenting portraits, the bar has been proud and pleased to participate in the honoring of its members who have served as justices. I am particularly pleased to be here today in the instance of Otis M. Smith.
Otis served for several years of the Board of Commissioners of the State Bar, starting in 1968, and, thus, is really in every sense one who is close to our hearts. From a personal standpoint, working as a young lawyer with the Board of Commissioners in the late 60s, I was constantly reassured and inspired by his ever-enthusiastic support and assistance. Otis Smith served as an example for all of us, as the consummate lawyer, and even more so the consummate gentleman. Otis, to his friends and acquaintances, is a man known for his sense of humor. It is with that quality in mind I cannot help but observe to this Court, and to this admirable throng of dignitaries, that since leaving this Court bench to serve General Motors, Otis has seen fit to “Ford” many streams, “Dodge the bullets of any adversity which has come his way, and still continued to in “Volvo” himself in community affairs. Now Otis, I could go along these lines for some time, but “A.M.C.”-ing that Dave Collins who is in charge of this program telling me right now, I “Toyota” take only two minutes. So Otis, we of the State Bar are very proud to be a part of this presentation. It’s now necessary for me to “Chev” off and make room for the next speakers to “General”-ly “Motor” on. Thank you, your Honors.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: It’s now my pleasure to call on the President of the National Bar Association, Dennis W. Archer.
MR. ARCHER: Mister Chief Justice, and Associate Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, members of the bench and bar, ladies and gentlemen, and my distinguished colleagues: Robert F. Kennedy was reported to have said, against the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence, that few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression. Dr. Benjamin Mays observed that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal, the tragedy lies in not having a goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster not to be able to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim, is the sin.
Otis Smith, both professionally and in his life has had goals, dreams, ideals, and clearly has set a high aim. We at the National Bar Association are proud of this giant who has been an outstanding role model for all lawyers, especially black lawyers. Now we know, yes I can. Otis Smith has been personally for me a mentor, and more importantly, a friend. Our congratulations to you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: If you’ll look at your program, the next remarks were to have been from J. Hamilton Smith, a brother of Otis. However, he had surgery and hasn’t completely recovered from that. If I may, I would like to reach from a letter that he sent, because probably it echoes some of the remarks he would make if he were here.
He said, “As a youth I recognized my little brother to be a rare combination of intellect and integrity. I was convinced that God had blessed him with exceptional talents, and that he had tremendous potential for achievements of the highest order. Never in my wildest dreams was I so bold as to imagine the heights to which he has climbed. His achievements are even more astounding when we consider from whence he came, absolutely no food in the cupboard at times, and what he has had to overcome, including a substandard educational foundation, bigotry, and living a lifetime with a most disagreeable ulcer.”
“My family and I have been inspired by his success. We have been awed at how much he has survived in spite of tremendous difficulties. We have admired the great love and respect he had for his aged mother, and how consistently he adhered to her constant admonitions to: one, go to school; two, be somebody; and three, don’t get biggity, with particular emphasis on the latter. Throughout the years his innate modesty has remained intact. And he has always eagerly sought the advice of his elder brother. But for some unknown reason he has stubbornly insisted on making up his own mind at all times.”
I am sure that those observations are accurate, and true, and I’m not sure that he could have said anything better were he here.
And now the next item on the program is Jerome F. O’Rourke, who is from Flint, and has known him well over the years.
The County of Genessee, and the State of Michigan, and General Motors Corporation, owe a debt of gratitude to the late Justice William O. Douglass. But for Justice Douglas, and his high visibility, Otis Smith might never have graced the courts of Genessee County, he would not have come to the attention of G. Mennen Williams. Had he not come to the attention of G. Mennen Williams, we might not have enjoyed the public service Otis rendered to the State of Michigan. And had he not rendered service to the State of Michigan, he might not have come to the attention of General Motors Corporation.
In 1950, Otis was the winner of a moot court competition in the law school of Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He was honored on the occasion of his victory by having the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Justice Douglas. The meeting and handshake were given notoriety by the publication of a picture of that event in the newspaper media. A newspaper containing the photograph came to the attention of Flint attorney Dudley Mallory. Mr. Mallory was acquainted with relatives of Otis in the city of Flint, and as a result of that acquaintance communicated with Otis and asked if he would be interested in joining Mr. Mallory in the practice of law. Otis accepted, and did in fact in January of 1951 come to Flint with his family.
In January of 1951 he was admitted to the practice of law, and immediately began to practice. Within two days of his admission, he was appointed by the Honorable Philip Elliott to defend a felon. Otis engaged in the general practice of law in Genesee County, taking part in the broad general practice that Dudley Mallory had established in the county. In addition to his practice of the law, Otis took part in many civic organizations and functions. He was an active member in the Big Brothers, the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Red Feather Agency, the Michigan Children’s Aid Society, and the Genesee County Democratic Party. His activities in the organizations mentioned brought him to the attention of the members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in the city of Flint, an organization that he was not a member of, who designated him, and honored him, as the Outstanding Young Man in Flint in the year 1956. That designation came about as a result of competition with other persons highly qualified to receive the designation at that same time.
During the course of his private practice, Mr. Smith, by virtue of his early demonstrated skills, was appointed, or rather mandated by the President of the Genessee County Bar, now federal judge Ralph M. Freeman, to deliver an address concerning Abraham Lincoln to the Genessee County Bar at its annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Otis undertook that assignment, and delivered what he described formally as the lighter side of Lincoln. That presentation resulted in his being called upon regularly throughout the next several years to deliver the same speech to many of the organizations in the county. He received some substantial, but primarily friendly, criticism from the Democrats of the county for being the only Democrat in the county going about praising a former Republican president.
Otis’s skills were recognized by the prosecuting attorney of Genesee County, a Republican, who in 1954 appointed Otis as assistant prosecuting attorney. He undertook the performance of the obligations of assistant prosecuting attorney with energy and determination and tried the prosecution of cases almost full-time. The election in 1954 provided a change in the office of prosecuting attorney, and the incoming prosecuting attorney, a Democrat, a member of Otis’s own party, either through ignorance, immaturity, or both, failed to appoint Otis, and he resumed private practice. He was designated as a part-time public administrator, and continued private practice through 1956, when Governor G. Mennen Williams, also having identified talent, integrity, and intelligence, appointed him Chairman of the Public Service Commission of the State of Michigan.
During his service on the commission, Otis commuted from the city of Flint to Lansing, or other parts of the state, and as was his wont, and is his wont, he continued to serve properly the clients he had undertaken to represent. The vigor with which Otis carried out his duties as Public Service Commission Chairman resulted in G. Mennen Williams appointing him Auditor General of the State of Michigan in October 1959.
During that service Otis brought about the successful conclusion to the efforts to have uniform auditing throughout the State of Michigan. In October of 1961, Governor John Swainson contacted Otis and asked that he accompany the Governor to Kalamazoo, as the Governor had an appointment in that city. Otis accepted, and as they proceeded to Kalamazoo from Lansing, the Governor asked Otis if he had any ideas about what the Governor ought to do to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Otis suggested, and urged, that the Governor give serious consideration to some of the outstanding appointees that Governor Williams had appointed to the circuit bench in Wayne County. Governor Swainson, after reviewing the attributes of those persons, inquired of Otis, “How about you?” Otis was taken aback somewhat, but indicated to the Governor he’d like to think about the idea. He did think about it, and then consulted with his mentor and old friend, Dudley Mallory.
Dudley is reported to have said to Otis, “Otis, you can’t do any worse than the rest of those bozos up there, so you might as well take it”. Otis continued to ponder the question; he was called by Governor Swainson, and accepted the appointment. Justice SOURIS will take you from there in his history. During his practice in Flint, and throughout his life, I believe, Otis has striven to fulfill the wants of the Lord as he understands them. He often refers to the book of Micah in which it is written, “What does the Lord require of you? Only to do the right, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Otis M. Smith, during the early years and since, has done that. There’s a psalm that came to my mind in thinking about what I might say about Otis, because I believe it reflects what Otis seeks for all of us, and he has contributed towards accomplishing that within his lifetime. And that is, he seeks a time when kindness and truth shall meet. Justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth. And justice shall look down from Heaven.
In closing I’d like to advise this body that the prosecutor who declined to retain Otis as an assistant, and Otis, have since become brothers. I have fulfilled my pleasant and honored assignment. I hope it has pleased this Court, and my brother.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much, Jerry. May I interrupt here to introduce some of the judges and others who are here. And I’d like to begin with the one who had the perspicacity and good judgment to appoint Otis, John Swainson.
Chief Justice TOM BRENNAN is in the back, will you stand? Chief Justice JOHN FITZGERALD. Justice DOROTHY RILEY is with us. I’m not going to introduce Justice SOURIS yet, because he might go to the podium; he’s the next speaker. From the Court of Appeals we have Vincent Brennan, and Michael Kelly. From the federal bench we have the distinguished Wade McCree and his wife Doris, and Judge Horace Gilmore and his wife Mary. Have we neglected any judges? If we have, send me a message and we’ll try and catch up.
There’s another person that I forgot, and that’s Mary Lou Shepherd. Would you stand up? Mary Lou Shepherd has been with the Supreme Court as secretary to many justices.
There’s the present Solicitor General, Louis Caruso, and a former one, Robert Derengoski. Also from the Attorney General’s office is Eugene Krasicky. Stanley Steinborn from the Attorney General’s office. Another trailblazer, I think he brought the Ivy League into conformity, he’s sitting here, Levi Jackson, do you want to arise? And there are two brothers here, distinguished Bay City attorneys who not only had the good judgment to support our friend Otis, but also picked up a young man running for Governor, Oscar Baker and Jim Baker.
I understand that the artist who did the portrait is here, Larry Blovits; would you stand? I am going to give all the rest of you distinguished people an opportunity to stand, but not right now.
May I introduce the justice that I overlooked until this moment, and that’s my friend Theodore Souris, who will speak about the Court years.
MR. SOURIS: Chief Justice WILLIAMS, members of the Court, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, and former colleagues, may it please the Court: My reflections on Otis Smith’s five years of service on the Court are bittersweet. We worked in mutually supportive harmony, he and I, even when we disagreed, as we sometimes did, on issues presented to the Court for its decision. It was a personally gratifying and professionally stimulating relationship for me. Unhappily, however, it ended too soon when the people of this state simply failed to recognize the superb talents of the judge named Smith.
During Otis’s tenure on the Court we confronted such fascinating and challenging issues as legislative apportionment, indigent criminal defendants’ procedural rights, child custody rights of parents, the right to jury determination of fact issues, limitations upon the right to summary judgment, the compensability of disabling injuries occurring during employment, the scope of and the standards for judicial review of administrative agency decisions, governmental immunity, enforcement of civil rights, manufacturer’s product liability, and of course, recurring revisions of court rules. It sometimes astonishes me that our judicial successors seem to be struggling still with such issues Otis resolved about two decades ago.
The record made by Otis as he labored on this Court is readily available to the profession and to historians in volumes 365 through 378 of the Court’s reports. But the dry, dehydrated, lifeless pages of the official record do no reveal adequately the contributions made by the man we honor today to the work and the life and the spirit and the style of that Court. Thos pages merely reflect the formal, official public manifestations of Justice Otis SMITH’s compassion for other humans’ frailties, his constant concern for the fairness of judgment, his insistence upon scrupulous obedience by public servants and private fiduciaries to the highest standards of ethical conduct. They can only suggest to the sophisticated reader of judicial opinions the enormous influence this man exerted upon his colleagues in our pre-hearing and post-hearing conferences, and in subsequent private conversations, and correspondence about pending cases. Otis Smith joined this Court as a minister of justice. He so regarded his calling to the bench, and he comported himself in that fashion throughout his service here. It was not an easy ministry for Otis, nor was it for any of us. He struggled harder and longer than the rest of us, however, to be certain our judgments were in accordance with law, and that our decisional process was fair. He believed with profound conviction that it was as important that the public perceived our process to be fair, as it was that our judgment be right. Injustice was, and remains, Otis’s constant enemy. I’m sure he saw the face of injustice at close quarters, at least as often as the rest of us. Fortunately, Otis had the capacity to express his sense of injustice, his sense of outrage, to others while maintaining utter civility and utter unfailing courtesy. His civility and courtesy in all of his personal relationships, even in the presence of abusive, provocative conduct, were particularly important to the Court during the very stressful years of his service.
I hope my brief remarks today have succeeded in adding just a few of my own brush strokes to the admirable portrait of our highly esteemed colleague and friend. His presence among us brought us full measures of compassion, wisdom, experience, fairness, honor, civility and courtesy. He brought us class and grace, and we missed him when he left us.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: I have a great sheaf of letters here from General Motors presidents and chief justices and others explaining their inability to be here for one good reason or another. I certainly am not going to read all of them, but I do want to at least refer to three letters from former colleagues on the Court.
The first is George Edwards, who wishes me to extend best wishes to Otis on this happy occasion. He cannot be with us because he is recovering from surgery.
Then Eugene F. Black, unfortunately suffering from traumatic arthritis and many other things, couldn’t come, but writes,
“This then is the regrettable reason for my inability to be with you and the others. I would indeed like to shake hands again with Otis and to convey to him my sincere compliments upon his great success since he left the Court, and I am sending him a copy of this as a token of my esteem.”
And then I want to read another one, which is in manuscript form, and you will soon learn who it is. “A growing problem I have with downstate sashays is that I still do not fly, and find that with advancing maturity these long drives are not a much fun as they used to be, especially now that my good friend Ted Bogdan has a regular job and can’t accompany me as in the past. I guess I’m trying to beg off on this one, as much as I’d love to help honor our friend Otis Smith. Please try to explain it to him. An added reason is that the annual deer slaying starts the day before, and I wince at the thought of driving down through a bombardment from all those trigger-happy sportsmen.” It’s signed, Warm regards, John Voelker”.
And now may I call on Paul H. Zalecki to discuss the General Motors years.
MR. ZALECKI: Mister Chief Justice, members of the Court, distinguished guests: On behalf of General Motors and its legal staff, it is a privilege and pleasure to participate in this celebration and tribute to Otis Smith.
The comments which we have heard today reaffirm the recollections and warm feelings we all have for this man. The common threads he wove through everything he did, the common threads of an overriding love for the law, and this nation, a keen sense of fairness, and a genuine concern for people. To the members of the General Motors legal staff, Otis’s regard for the practice of law as a learned profession, a vocation if you will, created a standard of moral excellence that was an inspiration to every one of us. For Otis the calling to the, law and the love of country were inexorably intertwined. Incidentally, he was always Otis. From the first day he came to General Motors he made it clear that he was not Judge Smith, or Mr. Smith. And this never changed as he earned his way to ever increasing responsibility. He was, and will remain, first and foremost an unpretentious and good friend of every member of the legal staff.
Perhaps there was no one at General Motors who had a greater respect and appreciation for Otis than the man who selected him to be General Counsel, Thomas Aquinas Murphy [General Motors Chairman]. I would like to share with you a few comments that Tom Murphy sent to me for this occasion. After extending his apology for not being able to be here today, Tom went on to say:
“It was the great good fortune of General Motors Corporation that Otis selected that corporation to employ his talents when he completed his distinguished career on the Michigan Supreme Court. He brought to the corporation a broad knowledge of human endeavor, a judicial mind, and a talent for working with and motivating people that is rich and rare. * * * I knew Otis best as General Counsel, and can state without qualification that in my judgment he was by far the finest General Counsel that General Motors has ever had. He understood business well, but knew the organization and its people even better. His judgment was and is impeccable, his sense of integrity and knowledge of the law above question. He was a professional without peer, and a colleague beyond value.
He worked congenially and effectively with everyone, was always courteous and considerate, and never failed to evidence a pleasant good humor. * * * It was a distinct pleasure to be with him on any occasion. I am proud to say that Otis is a friend to all of us in General Motors, and most importantly to me as an individual.” In Tom Murphy’s opinion, and that of his colleagues on the legal staff, Otis personifies what he himself has called the three “C’s”, character, competence, commitment. And in essence the three “C’s” mean that a person must do the best he can with what he has got. Cover the ground on which you stand, Otis would say. So far as his career at General Motors is concerned, Otis covered well that ground on which he stood. He always did his best. He not only preached the three “C’s”, he lived it.
It is our hope that his portrait in this building will inspire all who practice here to strive for his kind of character, competence, and commitment, and that this portrait will cast on all who practice here a little bit of a shadow of Otis Smith, who gave so much of himself to his colleagues, and to the General Motors legal staff. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you. The Supreme Court has a long tradition of never having a meeting without one or two non-agenda items. And so I wonder whether Longworth Quinn of the Chronicle would like to say a word or two from his vast experience of what has been going on? I don’t see him. I thought he was here. Well, some non-agenda items fizzle.
I’m the other non-agenda item. I had thought perhaps everything would be covered, and I think most things have been covered extraordinarily well, far better than I ever could. But there was a certain relationship between the Governor and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission that no one could produce or reproduce other than the Governor. So I presume to say a word or two.
As you can well imagine, the Public Service Commission is in the teeth of the storm. This is really an adversarial situation where the utilities are seeking to serve with profit, and the consumers are seeking to consume at the lowest possible cost. To try to steer between that Scylla and Charybdis with at least the acceptance of all, and without bringing a storm on your head and on the Governor’s head, is something that very few Chairmen of the Public Service Commission have ever accomplished. And Otis did that. Otis somehow or other had the complete support of all of the consumer groups, and if he didn’t have the support, he at least had the respect of the utilities. And as a Democrat before he came on this Court, I was often surprised to be addressed by some of my friends, the chairman of the board, or presidents of the various utilities, during the administration of the last Governor whose politics was much closer to these utility people than mine. They kept saying, golly, I wish you were still Governor. And I know that what they meant was they wished that Otis Smith was back running the Public Service Commission.
So I think that Otis really achieved the impossible of serving the people of this state, and serving the two diverse constituencies that he had to as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. I don’t think I would have ever dared remove Otis Smith from the Public Service Commission, because he was doing such an outstanding job that he couldn’t be replaced, except that Otis was working his heart out, and working his ulcer to death, so that it was absolute torture for him, and a sacrifice more than I could ask, for him to continue there. So he was in a sense promoted by his appointment to Auditor General, where he performed a really great innovative task. But I really think his stewardship at the Public Service Commission is something that should go down in the annals of our history as extraordinary.
And I think, with everyone else who has spoken of Otis, that I learned much from his wisdom, his compassion, his gentility, and his admiration for real values. And while I may have fizzled, I’m going to stop talking before it’s a great fizzle, and say Otis, you served this state well, God love you. Now we’ll proceed to the real business of our being here, the presentation of the portrait; I call upon Elmer Johnson, who is the Vice President and General Counsel of General Motors: please Mr. Johnson.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Otis, it’s that time. If the guest of honor would give us the pleasure of addressing us, we’d all be very pleased.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. May it please the Court, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, retired members of the Court, members of the judiciary, my colleagues of the General Motors legal staff. As an off-agenda item by leave of this Court, may I please have them stand in a body so we can see who they are. That’s one way to assure a full house, bring your own gang.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Why didn’t you teach me that when I was running for office?
MR. SMITH: To each of my friends who has participated in this ceremony, and to my family, ladies and gentlemen, bless you all for coming.
First, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Court for devoting this afternoon out of your demanding schedule for the purpose, sole purpose of memorializing my relatively brief five years and two months as a member of this bench. I realize that other events of my life have intruded their way into this ceremony, and I appreciate the patience of this Court in liberally admitting the addenda into the record.
It is especially gratifying to receive expressions from Joel Boyden and Dennis Archer, whom I have watched mature so rapidly through their energetic contributions to the efforts of the organized bar. Only a few short years ago they were leaders in the Young Lawyers Section. And now, they come to us fully credentialed to lead the senior bar.
It is unfortunate that my lifetime best friend, my brother Hamilton, could not be with us this afternoon. But, as has been said, he’s recuperating nicely from minor surgery at his home in Washington, D.C. I just returned from spending the weekend with him, and had he been able to attend and participate in this ceremony, you would have been treated to some lavish embellishment of fact that could only come from a loving, doting, older brother. Just the same, I wish to acknowledge again publicly his enormous contribution to my growth and development, through his timely advice over the years, and his unselfish and unwavering support of all of my endeavors since our last fight, which occurred when I was about 11, and he was just about 14. I will leave to conjecture what happened between the aging welterweight and the up-and-coming lightweight.
My dear friend from Flint, Jerry O’Rourke, with whom I first worked side by side in the Williams/Alger gubernatorial recount in 1952, has made a second career out of insuring against pomposity on my part by seizing every opportunity in the last thirty years to deflate my ego with his rapier-like wit. However, he has been unusually restrained today, probably out of fear of retaliation, being as it is that I have the last word. But how can I be naughty on a day like this when I have nothing but overflowing gratitude to all, especially to Jerry, and the lawyers and judges of Flint who introduced me to the mysteries of the practice, which, incidentally, began, as Jerry said, two days after I had taken the oath.
Jerry has mentioned my mentor and benefactor, the man in whose office I started all of this, the late Dudley Mallory. He was from the old school, the eminently successful sole practitioner whose generosity to his city, and to his alma mater the University of Michigan, and to me, will long be remembered.
Jerry O’Rourke also mentioned my tours of duty at the Public Service Commission and at the Auditor General’s department. I have of course you, Mister Chief Justice, to thank for these early opportunities to operate in the mainstream. And I will not embarrass you by further elaboration. But you already know the strength of my feelings about the courage and foresight which you exhibited as Governor of this state a generation ago.
At the Public Service Commission I had the good fortune to work with, among others, Thomas M. Burns of Saginaw, who is now a judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals. We arrived at the commission at about the same time in 1957, and found that in some areas the docket was in arrears by up to five years. However, in fourteen months we became current, and much of the credit was due to Tom Burn’s willingness, acting as an administrative law judge, to conduct hearings for as long as the lawyers and witnesses had energy to continue. It was not unusual for hearings to conclude at 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening on a Friday, rather than have everybody leave at 4 only to have to return from their out-of-town homes on Monday to conclude the hearings. Tom and I commuted daily from our respective homes in Saginaw and Flint, to and from Lansing. And many times we would stop at a restaurant out at the Perry corner on M-78, about 20 miles outside of Lansing, on the way home in the evenings to discuss further one of our more important pending cases. And I’d like to say, although we came from different political faiths, that in the 2-1/2 years that we worked together, and the 20 to 40 cases we decided every week, Tom and I never ultimately disagreed on a decision. We had a will to agree.
Well, now we come to the Court years, made possible for me initially by the appointment of Governor John Swainson, whose friend I remain through thick and thin.
My treasured colleague, Justice THEODORE SOURIS, has just about nominated me for sainthood in his warm and sensitive and generous observations about my five years on this bench. I have no words adequate to express all that I feel about his special kindness to me. But I am reminded about what Goldsmith wrote, “praise in the beginning is agreeable enough, and we receive it as a favor. But when it comes in great quantities we can only regard it as a debt, which nothing but our continuing merit can discharge.” Ted, I will no doubt take forever trying to merit the praise which you have heaped upon me here today. However, in a modest turnabout, I must repeat what I have already told a number of people in this room, which is that in our five years and 959 decided cases with approximately 2-1/2 times as many window matters, you were, despite your youth, the most effective justice on the Court. You were thoroughly prepared on every motion, and no other justice changed as many minds at the conference table as did you. And you were only in your middle and late thirties at the time.
You mentioned some of the issues that were before the Court when we sat here together. None was more important than being the very first Court in the nation to apply the one man-one vote doctrine of Reynolds v Sims, and applying it to a pending case. And that was only about ten days after it was decided. As a result, the Michigan Legislature became the first, and the purest apportioned body mathematically, in the nation. Later, Chief Justice Earl Warren said at one of our conferences, “You were the first to decide and all the others fell over like tenpins.”
And there were of course some lighter moments. On St. Patrick’s Day with justices named Kelly, Kavanagh, T. M. that is, and O’Hara, and also another one whose mother was a Maloney, it was hard to contain the exuberance of the Irish. Especially when one of them would say for the third or fourth time, “There are two kinds of people, you know, those who are Irish, and those who wish they were”. And the rebuttal that came back from one of the non-Irish members of the Court was that he was part African, and American Indian, with some dashes of Scotch-Irish and Irish, so that whenever he misbehaved it was difficult to assign fault ethnically. But he said he always assumed that it was the Irish that brought out the devil in him.
When the people of Michigan, after voting in my favor in the elections in 1960 and 1962, decided in 1966 that they favored other persons over me, I was keenly disappointed, of course, but little did I know at the time that I was about to embark upon another exciting and rewarding adventure which is culminating in the next few months, with this event today as one of the exit features. As I joined the General Motors legal staff on my 45th birthday in 1967, February 1967, I met Paul Zalecki and other members of the staff. And during these last 16-1/2 years they’ve been like family to me. There have been many weddings, and a number of funerals, and all the time together we have managed some of the most complicated legal matters that only a corporation of General Motors’ size and reach can engender. We have been concerned about things in Madagascar as we have about those in Minnesota. But we have been both stern advisors and zealous advocates, both of which are commanded by the canons of professional responsibility. Always you— may I say to the staff— have been acutely conscious of the special traditions instilled in you by your first two General Counsel, John Thomas Smith and Henry Hogan, who insisted upon excellence in staff work to match the leadership assumed by our great client. But, also, they insisted upon a stubborn professional independence to insure the effectiveness of our legal endeavors. Few people outside of a corporate setting understand the legal bulwark which a good legal staff represents. As an outsider who came to you in mid-career, I can give full testimony of your valor to all of the corporate constituencies which you serve.
It is with great pride, therefore, and with great gratitude, that I accept the tribute which you have paid me in the form of this portrait which will join that of my Court colleagues in these hallowed precincts. I wish to thank my successor, Elmer Johnson, for his kind words in the presentation of the portrait, and you, Mister Chief Justice, in a very special way, for your continued inspiration and for the extra special ways in which you have honored my family and me over the years. My special thanks go also to Lou Lindeman and David Collins, my friends and colleagues of the legal staff, who have acted as co-captains in helping to put together this function, and a related staff function. Thank you, one and all.
CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Well, after Otis has spoken, there’s nothing left to be said. The meeting is ended.