JUNE 22, 1927
May it please the Court:
Judge DURFEE died April 28, 1927, in his eighty-fifth year and after completing a half century of service as probate judge of the county of Wayne. When he took office in January, 1877, the county had a population of about 150,000. But 8,253 cases had been disposed of in the probate court since its organization in early Territorial days. When his half century of judicial service ended, Wayne county had grown to a population of nearly four and one-half millions and the register of the court had listed over 128,000 cases.
A great proportion of those whose affairs come before a probate court are ignorant, inexperienced in business and inadequately represented. In such a court, the judge himself must supply all that the suitor lacks and needs. Judge DURFEE had an exact and extensive knowledge of the probate law, a sound practical judgment of business and of administrative conditions and a sympathetic appreciation of the needs and the perplexities of all.
His judicial aspect was severe, his manner often gruff and his expression peremptory. This attitude, however, concealed a tenderness of feeling which he was loath to exhibit. He lacked conventional suavity, but he was scrupulous of the right and patient to ascertain and to do justice. He discharged his high and laborious trust without fear or favor or toleration of wrongdoing, regardless of personal interest, unmindful of praise and untroubled by apprehension of blame. Political opposition to his continuance in office early passed away. He soon acquired and always retained the respect and confidence of the entire community, the trust and esteem of the bar and the affectionate regard of all who were privileged to know him well. His works are his sufficient memorial, and the example of his labors will continue to inspire all who worthily conceive the responsibility and the great opportunities of civic office.
WILLIAM L. CARPENTER,
HENRY S. HULBERT,
SIDNEY T. MILLER,
HINTON E. SPALDING,
JUDGE W. L. CARPENTER:
Your Honors: As a supplement I desire to say a few words concerning a characteristic of Judge DURFEE not especially emphasized in the memorial. That characteristic was his extraordinary courage. Of all the men I ever knew, Judge DURFEE is best entitled to be called a hero. He showed his heroism when as a young man he risked his life and gave his right arm that this nation might live.
Always it should be remembered that he was one of those heroes of whom President LINCOLN in his immortal Gettysburg address said:
“But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Our knowledge of Judge DURFEE warrants our saying that of all the thousands who struggled on the battlefield of Gettysburg— the decisive battle of our great Civil War— there was not one who more richly deserved this high encomium.
The heroism Judge DURFEE exhibited at Gettysburg he exhibited in his judicial career by always deciding cases in accordance with his convictions and in utter disregard of popular clamor. But, he was none the less an exceedingly popular judge. Thus proving that the way for a judge to acquire real and enduring popularity is to follow unswervingly the path of duty.
Judge DURFEE most conspicuously displayed his heroism in his last, long illness. Though knowing that he was doomed he was always brave and cheerful. When friends who visited him were about to depart he often said: “Boys, I am always glad to see you. Come again. But come soon. For I am only marking time.” On the Sunday before his death—he died the following Thursday—it was my privilege, accompanied by Mr. Spalding, another member of the memorial committee, to have a half hour’s visit with him. On that occasion he exhibited his usual cheerfulness, clearness of thought and exactness of memory and, until our visit was ended, he said nothing concerning his impending dissolution. But, as we arose to go, he said: “Boys, I am glad you called. I will not see you again. It is almost over.” Four days later he died. Blessed is the man who can meet death with such serenity and fortitude. His was a glorious life and his, too, was a glorious death.
This Court may well pause to permit eulogies and pay respect to the memory of an able, conscientious jurist who served Wayne county for half a century as probate judge.
He gave his right arm to his country at Gettysburg, and fifty years of splendid judicial service to his State. He brought to his judicial office and maintained a high conception of duty and administered the law and its permissible equities with an even hand commanding universal recognition and commendation. He maintained “the cold neutrality of an impartial judge,” but with an engaging dignity and poise inspiring respect and confidence.
He loved flowers—“the poetry of earth”—an evidence revealing a gentleness beneath an outward appearance of sternness.
Few of his decisions came to this Court for review. When he assumed the duties of office Justices COOLEY, CAMPBELL, GRAVES, and MARSTON were writing the opinions of this Court found in volume 35 of the Reports; while at his departure the present Justices were writing the opinions in volume 238.
He witnessed the expansion of law to meet the complications occasioned by modern industrial and urban advancement and was active in bettering probate procedure.
He held a life tenure of office by a periodic expression of the will of an appreciative electorate.
Of him it may truly be said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
CHIEF JUSTICE SHARPE: The memorial which has been presented and the words of appreciation which have been spoken will be made records of this Court and will be published in the Reports. In token of respect the Court will adjourn until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.