In Memoriam Aaron V. Mcalvay

APRIL 4, 1916

 Upon the convening of court for the April term, 1916, on Tuesday, April 4th, the Honorable EDWARD CAHILL, of Lansing, presented the following resolutions, prepared by a committee of the Manistee County Bar Association, and moved the court to place it on the records of the court:

The committee of this bar, appointed at the last adjourned term of this court to submit resolutions expressing the high esteem in which the late Justice AARON V. MCALVAY was held in this community and by the bar of this county, respectfully report the following for approval and adoption:

The sudden death of Honorable Justice AARON V. MCALVAY was a shock to the entire community of Manistee, who knew him only to love him, but to the members of the bar, his being taken so suddenly when at the height of his usefulness as an eminent jurist, was a calamity, a shock which time alone can remove.

Judge MCALVAY was a native of Washtenaw county, and a graduate from both the literary and law departments of the University of Michigan. He came to Manistee in October, 1871, and immediately engaged in the practice of the law with the late Colonel S. W. FOWLER. After the dissolution of that firm, Mr. MCALVAY opened an office in Manistee and practiced alone until the year 1886, when he formed a partnership with the late Honorable JOHN H. GRANT, the firm name being MCALVAY & Grant. This firm continued until the appointment of Mr. MCALVAY, as judge of this court to succeed Judge HARRISON H. WHEELER, deceased, and after the death of Judge BEARDSLEY, in 1901, he was again appointed as judge of this court, serving until elected to the Supreme Bench in 1904, which position he held at the time of his death, July 9th of this year, having been twice re-elected.

Soon after he became a member of the Supreme Court, Judge MCALVAY took up his residence in Lansing, where he continued to reside with his family until the time of his decease. Mrs. MCALVAY and five children survive the judge, and, as we understand, are fairly well situated in life.

Judge MCALVAY was a man of splendid native ability, well equipped as a lawyer, and his work on the bench entitled him to high rank among his associates. He was eminently successful both at the bar and in his judicial career. No higher tribute can be paid him than the record he has, made as a public official, citizen and neighbor. His high ideals were admired by his many friends, to whom he was considerate and kind in all his relations, and the great shock which spread like a gloom over this community on the morning of the announcement of his sudden death is a eulogy higher than anything that can be said by us concerning Judge MCALVAY his personal attributes and the universal regard and respect maintained for him by all who knew him.

Resolved, that this report be spread at large upon the record of this court, and an engrossed copy thereof be forwarded by the clerk to Mrs. MCALVAY, as a token of our appreciation of her departed husband, and an expression of our sympathy with her and her children in their great bereavement.
Honorary Chairman.

Mr. CAHILL also presented the following resolutions adopted by the Ingham County Bar Association, and prepared by a committee appointed by Honorable JASON E. NICHOLS, president, at a meeting held on the 12th day of July, 1915:

The members of the Ingham County Bar have learned with surprise and sorrow of the sudden death of our esteemed fellow-citizen, Justice MCALVAY of the Supreme Court of this State, which occurred at his residence in this city on the morning of July 9th, 1915. So sudden and unexpected was this event that Justice MCALVAY may well be said to have died at his desk, as he was there on the day before in his usual health, working diligently at his cases.

During the ten years and more that he had been upon the bench of the Supreme Court, Justice MCALVAY made his home in Lansing, and had, by his inborn friendliness, endeared himself to the members of this bar, so that we look upon his death not only as a public calamity, but as a personal grief to each of us. We extend to the family of the deceased our sincere sympathy in their affliction, and assure them that the man whom they loved will long be held in grateful remembrance by his brethren.

Resolved, that a record of this proceeding be presented to the Supreme Court and to the Circuit Court of Ingham County, and a copy thereof sent to the family of the deceased.

Which resolution was unanimously adopted.

Mr. CAHILL further spoke as follows:
May it Please the Court:
AARON VANCE MCALVAY was distinctively a Michigan product. He was born in Ann Arbor, July 19, 1847. His father was a Michigan farmer and his son spent most of his early life, when not in school, on the farm.

He received his primary education in Michigan common schools and finally received from the literary department of our great university a degree of A. B. in 1868–a degree of LL. B. in 1869, and the honorary degree of LL. D. in 1910.
He married in 1872 a Michigan woman by whom he had six children, and Michigan was always his home. He practiced law for thirty years in all the courts of Michigan. He served for several years as circuit judge in Michigan, and for the last ten and one-half years of his life he served as one of the justices, of the highest court in his native State. It is of such men and the records they have made that Michigan is, and of right ought to be, proud. They furnish the best and the all-enduring evidence of the value of her institutions, which, though costly, are cheap at the price.

Justice MCALVAY passed away at his home in the capital of his beloved State, July 9, 1915, respected and mourned, not only by his associates, but by the people at large of the commonwealth which he had served so long and well.
Justice MCALVAY took his seat as a member of this court at the opening of the January term, 1905. His first opinion was in the case of Fairburn v. Houghton and is reported in 139 Mich. 72. His last opinions will be reported in 186 Michigan, so that his entire service covers an aggregate of 47 volumes averaging about 700 pages each; of this, his share would have been approximately 6 volumes or 4,200 pages.

Considered merely as a literary task, this work, great as it is, is not appalling, but when we remember that each one of the hundreds of cases involved the careful and conscientious examination of complex and generally disputed questions of fact and the application to those facts of such rules and principles of law as would hold the scales of justice in the particular case in balance, and best safeguard the rights of persons and property, not only of the three millions who now live in Michigan, but of all the untold millions that are to come after us, the work takes on a monumental aspect.

When Justice MCALVAY became a member of this court, he took up his residence in Lansing where he was at that time a comparative stranger. But he was not long to remain so. His social qualities were of a high order, based upon an open and frank friendliness that is certain to win response. The resolutions adopted by the Ingham County Bar speak the real sentiments, of affection which were felt by the individual members of the bar, rising above those of the high professional respect they had for his learning and character as a judge.

It is my pleasant duty to present to the court, on behalf of Justice MCALVAY’S family, this portrait of our departed friend which we regard a faithful likeness.

I request that it may be accepted by the court and hung upon the walls of this room in company with those of so many of his predecessors upon the bench.

Chief Justice STONE then said:
Of those associated with the late Justice MCALVAY during the entire time he was a member of the court, but two remain, Justices MOORE and OSTRANDER. Justice BROOKE will respond for the court.

 Justice BROOKE spoke as follows:
It is customary upon the death of a member of our profession to hold commemorative exercises. We analyze his legal character, appraise his services and eulogize his abilities. It is entirely fitting that we should do this. In or out of the profession, our daily life is steeped in the material, and material success engrosses our thoughts and our energies more and more. But on such occasions as the present we attempt to recognize other than mere material values.

Born without wealth, the early life of Justice MCALVAY was characterized by that constant labor and indomitable preseverence which so strongly tends to the upbuilding of character. His services for the State upon the circuit bench of the 19th judicial circuit, and as a lecturer in the law department of the great University of the State, were of a high character and recognized value.

He was a member of this court for nearly eleven years. Of the judges who constituted the court when his services commenced, but two now remain upon the bench. Three retired and three died in office. It was as a judge of this court that I knew him best, and as a judge of this court I think he will be longest remembered.

Our estimates of men are often faulty. Intellectual eminence, whether on the bench or at the bar, is rare, and when we think we discover it, we are likely to overestimate its importance.

Our law has passed the period of invention and discovery. Its boundaries are well defined and its great principles are firmly established. Its proper administration in the great majority of the cases that come before a court of last resort requires neither transcendent ability nor extraordinary learning. It does demand a patient attention that cannot be fatigued into indifference or blunted by the monotony of dull detail. It demands a sense of controlling principles that is not disturbed by those nice distinctions so attractive to certain acute minds, or clouded by those mists of feeling sometimes mistaken for principles of equity. It occasionally demands courage. It always requires the ability to co-operate with others, foregoing pride of opinion while abiding by conviction, and above all it demands the will and capacity for grinding labor. Judicial excellence, in short, results from the possession of common qualities in an uncommon degree.

Few outside the profession have more than a vague notion of the law, or any intelligent comprehension either of its excellencies or its defects. Ill considered proposals for its change are continually brought forward. The real safety of our institutions, lies not in the popular understanding of the law, but in the people’s trust in those who administer it. The judge who wins that confidence does not always gain it by intellectual eminence, which is commonly unappreciated and sometimes mistrusted, but by the more important qualities of which I have spoken. Those qualities Judge MCALVAY had in full measure. His qualities as a man were such as to endear him to all who came within the sphere of his influence. He was a keen lover of nature and its beauties. He was frank, unaffected, and easy of approach. He was loyal and self-sacrificing in his friendships. He had the respect and affection of his colleagues upon the bench and of the people whom he served. The law is better and stronger for his service, and this is his enduring and sufficient memorial.

 Chief Justice STONE spoke as follows:
It seems unnecessary for me to add anything to what has been already so truthfully and eloquently said, of the life and character of Justice MCALVAY. For the third time, since I have been a member of this court, are we called upon to mourn the loss of one of its members. Although his associates were anxious as to his condition, and often urged him to take a respite from his labors, yet Justice MCALVAY persisted in working to the last. It may truthfully be said that he died “in harness.” His sudden death was a great shock, not only to the community, but especially was it so to his associates.

Elected November, 1904; entering on his duties January 1, 1905; commencing with 139 Michigan, 46 reports show the extent and character of his work in this court. He was conscientious and faithful in his labors, and the close application which he gave to his work undoubtedly shortened his life. But how much better it is to “wear out,” than to “rust out.” His career is an illustration of the fact that the people will sustain the fearless, honest, and incorruptible man, who has the courage of his convictions. In his judicial work he always stood for what he believed to be the law of the case, always having in view the justice and equity of the matter, rather than the application of technical rules. He was three times elected a justice of this court, and had not entered upon his last term when death took him.

It is a gratification to receive and accept this strikingly natural portrait of our deceased associate, so fittingly presented by the members of his family. It will find a place here with those of former members of the court.

The resolutions which have been offered, and the eulogies pronounced here, will be made records of the Court and published in its Reports.