In Memoriam Rollin H. Person

October 23, 1917

Upon the convening of court on the 23d of October, 1917, the Honorable EDWARD CAHILL, of Lansing, presented  the following resolution, prepared by a committee of the Ingham County Bar Association, and moved the court to place it on the records of the court:

At a meeting of the Ingham county bar held in the circuit court room in the city of Lansing on the 1st day of October, 1917, the committee, theretofore appointed for that purpose, reported the following memorial and resolutions, which were, after appropriate addresses by members of the bar and the court, unanimously adopted and ordered spread on the journal of the court:

Again within a year the Ingham county bar has been called upon to mourn the sudden death of one of its most distinguished members: Judge PERSON, in the prime of life and apparently in perfect health, on the second day of June last, went from his office to his home at noon to pass away, three hours later, the victim of some unsuspected malady.
ROLLIN HARLOW PERSON was born on a farm in Iosco township, Livingston county, Michigan, October 15, 1850. His father, CORNELIUS HARLOW PERSON, in addition to being a farmer, was a teacher in the common schools of Livingston county for many years. This was true also of his mother, LUCINDA SPAFFORD, and it was doubtless to the studious atmosphere of his home that their son was largely indebted for that taste for learning which always characterized him.

He never had much training in the schools. He attended the country school of his neighborhood and the high school at Howell. Later he had six months in the law department of the Michigan University. But his real education, for he was a man of broad learning, was achieved through his studious habits out of school. In 1871 he entered the office of his uncle, who was register of deeds, as his assistant, and devoted his spare time to the study of the law in the office of Dennis Shields, the father of his later partner. In 1873 he was admitted to the bar of Livingston county and soon after was married to IDA M. MADDEN, to whose helpful companionship he largely ascribed his subsequent success in life. Shortly after his marriage he started with his new wife to seek his fortune in the then far West. He settled in Nebraska and began the practice of his profession, but the plagues of that frontier soon made him long for his old home, and he returned to Michigan in 1875, resuming the practice of law in Howell. His natural ability and his extraordinary diligence were soon rewarded by such success as, it is possible to achieve in a small rural community.

When the 30th judicial circuit was created, in 1891, it contained the counties of Ingham and Livingston, and Mr. PERSON was appointed by Governor WINANS to the vacant judgeship and served by subsequent election until December 31, 1899, when he voluntarily retired to enter upon the practice of his profession in Lansing, to which place he had removed with his family soon after he ascended the bench.

In his new field he was markedly successful from the first. His learning and his ability attracted a large and lucrative practice, and no lawyer in central Michigan stood higher in his profession than Judge PERSON, when, in 1915, he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of the late justice MCALVAY. The vicissitudes of party politics soon sent him back to the bar but not before he had established a proud record for ability and industry in the highest court of the State.

Upon retiring from the bench at the close of last year, Judge PERSON took a much needed and a too long delayed vacation, but subsequent events soon indicated that his vacation was not long enough or soon enough to preserve his valuable life.

Resolved, That in the death of Judge PERSON the bar of the State of Michigan and the people of the State at large have suffered a great loss. We recognize in him a leader fallen in the battle of life before his time; a man whose wise counsel and inspiring example will be long remembered, and whose kindly friendship we cannot cease to mourn.

Resolved, That these proceedings and resolutions be presented to the circuit court of Ingham county and to the Supreme Court, with the request that they be entered at large in their journals, and that an engrossed copy of the same be sent to the family of the deceased.

Mr. CAHILL also presented the following testimonial adopted by the State Bar
Association on June 30, 1917:

ROLLIN H. PERSON, late president of this association, and Justice of the Supreme Court of this State, departed this life at the city of Lansing on June 2, 1917, at the age of 66 years. Judge PERSON had lived a busy and useful life. He prepared for admission to the bar in the office of DENNIS A. SHIELDS, in the village of Howell, Livingston county. A few years succeeding his admission to the bar were spent in the State of Nebraska, from which State he returned to Howell and engaged in the active practice of his profession until the year 1891, at which time he was appointed circuit judge by Governor WINANS. He remained on the bench until December 31, 1899. He then returned to the practice of his profession, having in the meantime removed to the city of Lansing. He continued his private practice until July, 1915, when he was appointed a member of the Supreme Court to succeed the late Justice MCALVAY. He remained a member of the Supreme Court until January 1, 1917, when he resumed the practice of his profession at Lansing, as a member of the firm of Person, Thomas, Shields & Silsbee. During all the years of his active life he was interested in public questions and public affairs. He always displayed a deep interest in the work of this association, and advocated the highest ideals of the profession. As a circuit judge, he was careful, painstaking and patient. As a member of the court of last resort, he was faithful, able and industrious. His opinions demonstrated his breadth of thought and his learning in the law. As a citizen, his time and efforts were directed to good government and good citizenship. As a lawyer, he was always faithful to the interests of his client, conscientious in his advice and painstaking in the presentation of his cases. We deplore his untimely taking off; we revere his memory; and commend his life and his ideals to the profession.

Mr. CAHILL further spoke as follows:
I desire to say that the resolutions I have just read meet with my hearty approval.

Before sitting down, I will add a word of personal recollection.

My acquaintance with Judge PERSON began a good many years ago when we were both young men. He was then beginning his practice in Howell, after his return from the West. My acquaintance made at that time continued, but I did not know him intimately until he moved to Lansing as judge of this circuit. From that time on, I knew him as thoroughly perhaps as any member of that bar, as we were not far from the same age and had similar tastes.

As a circuit judge, he made a good record with the bar and the public. He was diligent. He was clear-headed and anxious to get at the real merits of every controversy that was brought before him; not less so when the responsibility was shared with a jury, than when he bore it alone. His charges to juries were often models for clearness of statement of the issues in the case and of the law applicable. If he was fairly treated by counsel, he reciprocated the courtesy, but it was not well for any one to be disrespectful to the court. I doubt if the records of this court would disclose a case in which the attitude of Judge PERSON toward the parties or counsel was the subject of adverse criticism.

After he left the circuit bench and resumed the practice of his profession, my acquaintance with him was even more intimate, as I was associated with him and conducted cases against him, but whether he was with me or against me I could but admire the careful diligence with which he looked after the interests of his clients. I discovered that he was a man of remarkable industry, too much so, I often told him, for his own good. He spent more hours and more days in his office than a man of his age should spend if he wanted to preserve his health.

The fact, so well known to us all, that during the past two years three eminent lawyers in Lansing have passed away suddenly and untimely, as we all agree—this fact, I say, ought to be an admonition to us and to the profession generally to beware lest in their zeal for professional success they work too hard and too long.

Your honors know more about Judge PERSON while he was on the bench than any member of the bar can know. We judge by the record he made in the reports, you judging by his every-day life among you, and I have no doubt but that your honors have found, as the members of the bar have found, that he was a lawyer of great ability, and an upright and painstaking judge.

I give way now to Mr. THOMAS who was associated with Judge PERSON in practice during the last year of his life and probably knows more about him than any of us.

 Mr. Harris E. Thomas:
I have been asked to say something on this occasion, as one of Judge PERSON’S associates in business. Judge PERSON’S reputation as a lawyer confirmed his standing as the head of the present active members of the bar of Ingham county, and his reputation also extended as well throughout the State, and to no small extent beyond its borders.
It is hardly necessary that I should here say anything of his attainments as a lawyer, but I do desire to speak of his great facilities of analyzing and coordinating the facts and law of a situation. His powers were great in this respect, and while he never came to a conclusion quickly, and never without mature thought and deliberation, yet when he came to a conclusion he had so thoroughly analyzed both the facts and the law, that the work of his office was very much simplified, and in the end hastened; and the loss, not only of his labors but of his mature and unerring judgment and counsel, is sadly felt.

But I desire here to recur more especially to some of the other of his various qualities and attainments. While the busy hours of his life had always been assiduously applied to his profession, to the exclusion of all other things, he nevertheless found ample time to educate himself in many other lines of though.

He was in every respect a highly self-educated man. This not alone in the sense that he was well informed in many branches and activities of human interest, but his mind was a thoroughly disciplined one; it had the double quality of a good memory and a sound judgment, qualities not often combined. It was disciplined not only to set itself to the task of solving the many intricate and difficult problems which beset the busy practitioner, but always held itself concentrated to the work before it until the end was accomplished. So thorough was this discipline, that hard and constant study was the daily habit of his life— study had become with him a pleasure and not a labor— continuing to the very hour of his untimely death.

So active and strong were his mental faculties, and so fixed had the habit become, that his studies stopped not at the law, and the great stores of information and knowledge acquired by him had been gathered from the fields of politics, economics, literature, art, science and religion, as well as other fields.

His active and restless mind and his broad interest in all public questions kept him constantly a student of, and a participant in, all public matters. This characteristic, together with his active memory and disputative temperament, made him a most interesting and agreeable conversationalist. He delighted in spending his leisure hours in that interesting and instructive conversation which was at once the delight and profit of all who had the opportunity of availing themselves of the privileges of his company; and all who chose could do so. He was very democratic in his associations. While he enjoyed the association of the greatest, he equally embraced that of the humblest.

His mind was of that peculiar combination so often found in strong men. It was at once conservative and radical. In his personal business affairs, in accumulating and conserving his property affairs, he was peculiarly conservative; far more so than the average of his profession, or than is even usual amongst them; not in the sense of being penurious or parsimonious, for he was not, but on the contrary was liberal, but not extravagant in his habits of living, and was a willing giver in any worthy cause, but in the sense that he trod the beaten paths before him and ventured not as the pioneer in new fields or searched out roads of business. He took few chances financially, and although the processes of accumulation were slow, he had succeeded, after educating his children, in laying by the competence that should insure himself and family comfort and ease in his declining years.

Opposed to this conservative disposition, his political, social, and religious views were liberal to the point of radicalism. In political, social, and economic questions he was always ready and open to study any new or advanced ideas, and always disposed to discuss and adopt any and all that appealed to his speculative disposition, and never allowed his thoughts to be hampered by tradition or established ideas and customs. Some of the more conservative were disposed to denominate him socialistic in these respects, which he would not refute, were he allowed, himself, to define socialism. In his views of the present war devastating the world, he was most radical, and condemned in unsparing terms the German dynasty that had precipitated the conflict, and he willingly and early gave his youngest son to the army to defend democracy from the attacks of autocracy.

In religion the same tendencies were evidenced, and while a regular attendant and actively identified with the work of one of the more conservative orthodox churches, he was extremely liberal in his religious views and subscribed to few, if any, of the tenets of the more conservative creeds. Yet he had great faith in the uplifting and humanizing power of Christianity itself, as revealed by the great founder of that faith, and he acknowledged the essential services of the churches in its work of spreading and maintaining that faith; notwithstanding their many narrow creeds and controversial dogmas over the nonessentials of religion.

Judge PERSON was a profound believer in immortality and that there is some great cause directing the destinies of man. In one of my last conversations with him, only the day before his death, he discussed freely and with great interest, his views on those subjects. He expressly stated that he had no fear of death, and so far as he was individually concerned, aside from his family considerations, was willing to go. He did not believe in the soul of man going to either annihilation or to eternal punishment. So active was he in studying the concerns of human life that he stopped not at the things of this world, but projected his thoughts into the world to come. His eager mind seemed interested to discover what was beyond that impenetrable veil that screens the things of this world from that mysterious beyond which has excited the imagination and reverence of all ages, and which still invites the speculation of the wisest minds of modern scholarship. He could not believe that all the mental discipline and self-improvement he had imposed upon himself, through the years of toil and thought, should go for naught and be obliterated with his passing, but had great faith that somehow he should profit from it in the future life; otherwise all were vanity, and life and endeavor a useless thing.

Judge PERSON had run the gauntlet of the many vicissitudes which follow the lives of most of his profession. He had labored earnestly and constantly at the bar and on the bench during all the mature years of his life; had made for himself an enviable position in his profession; had provided for himself and family in comfort and ease; had seen his children grow to maturity and become honored and useful members of society, secure in their own vocations; had made business arrangements by which he could continue in his chosen profession at his pleasure, and in a manner to his liking, when he was cut off in the very acme of his success when it would seem he should enjoy, in ease and comfort the results of a long life of toil; such is the uncertainty and vicissitude of life.

By Judge PERSON’S death the bar of Michigan has lost one of its ablest members, Lansing and Ingham county one of its best and chiefest citizens, his associates a valuable friend, colaborer and counselor and an agreeable and accomplished companion; and we do miss him, and shall continue to miss him sorely, but we are consoled by his own hope, and belief that he is reaping the just reward of his labors.

 Remarks by Louis E. Howlett of Howell:

It was my good fortune in early life to form the intimate acquaintance of this eminent gentleman and jurist, whose achievements have been here recalled and whose splendid qualities have been appropriately eulogized. In the spring of 1888, as a youth of 20 years, I entered the office of Judge PERSON at Howell, as a law student, and, except while attending the University at Ann Arbor, remained with him until his elevation to the bench of the newly-created judicial circuit comprising Ingham and Livingston counties. That association, in the formative period of my existence, made a great impression upon me and gave me ideals of a lawyer and his duties, that have affected my life in no small degree.
As I reflect upon the career of Judge PERSON, it seems to me it presents an eloquent commentary upon the opportunities afforded by our civilization to young men of ability who are willing to make the necessary effort and sacrifice to achieve success. He was born and raised upon a farm. His parents were obscure and of very moderate means. He attended various and of very moderate means. He attended various institutions of learning, but for lack of financial resources graduated from none, so far as I know. Nature endowed him with a rugged constitution and a determined will. He was an apt pupil in the school of life and pursued his work therein assiduously. He was a great reader of the best literature, and, possessing a retentive memory, stored his mind with a vast accumulation of valuable knowledge. Thus trained and equipped he fought the battles of life unaided. He was a self-made man in the fullest sense of the term. His paramount personal characteristic, as I observed and knew him, was his determination to acquire legal knowledge. His highest and lifelong ambition was to know the law. The matter of compensation for his work or the accumulation of property was always of secondary importance. He took great pride in solving puzzling and intricate legal problems. He briefed a legal proposition involving very little financial interest as carefully and exhaustively as he did one involving larger interests. His power of discrimination was rare. He was slow and cautious in announcing his conclusions but when announced they were usually correct and could be relied upon. He became an able lawyer. He traveled the whole route from a briefless, penniless country lawyer to the exalted position of a member of this honorable court. The climax was reached only by the most persistent and continuous effort.

How fitting were the words reported to have been uttered by him during the last hour of his life and so soon after his retirement from this court: “This is the end.”

He possessed splendid personal qualities. His devotion to his aged parents and the ungrudging assistance he rendered them in their declining years was praiseworthy. His ready willingness to assist a young and inexperienced lawyer has been observed and appreciated by many of the present members of our profession. In the community in which he resided he always advocated and supported those efforts and propositions tending toward the betterment and elevation of society. His home life was ideal; his paternal pride unsurpassed.

How truly has he exemplified—
“The man who seeks one thing in life and but one,
May hope to achieve it before life be done.”

His pathway to success contained obstacles, as is usual and might be expected. These he met and overcame. In his early years the financial question was always up for solution. His forensic powers were only ordinary; while his logic was sound and his reasoning cogent, yet his victories at the bar were won by a careful preparation and a sensible presentation supported by a reputation acquired by an honorable and consistent life. His lifelong alliance with a minority political party in his State hampered his preferment.

He has gone. His sudden and unexpected death was a shock to his friends. His orders, decrees and opinions are a legacy to the jurisprudence of the State, his career an inspiration to the youth and young men of future generations, his honorable and successful life a rich heritage to his widow and children.

By Chief Justice Kuhn:
Because of his long and intimate acquaintance with the late Justice PERSON, it seemed fitting to the members of this Court that the response on their behalf should be made by Mr. Justice OSTRANDER.

 Justice Ostrander:
Judge PERSON, some of whose achievements the memorial presented here truthfully, although modestly, characterize, devoted more than 40 years to the practice and the administration of the law in his native State. He began practice in the community in which he was born, and in which he had grown to manhood. Some 18 years later, a governor of the State, living in that community, appointed him to the bench of the circuit court, an appointment ratified by the electors of the circuit. He was eight years a circuit judge, and, leaving the bench, he resumed the practice of law in the judicial circuit in which he had served as judge. Sixteen years later another governor appointed him a justice of this court, a position he filled from July 16, 1915, to December 31, 1916. He had hardly got again into harness when he died. His life was passed, his work was done, his grave is made, within a few miles of his birthplace.

At best, the law is a difficult profession. A lawyer’s measure is soon taken by his brethren, and they not only discover, but in the nature of things they are bound to expose, his weaknesses, pretenses and lack of capacity. A circuit judge goes in and out before all of the people of his circuit, close to them, and, in the course of long service, meeting most of them. The labors of the justices of this court are not small, the responsibility of the position is very great. When, therefore, it is said that without the aid of fortuitous things Judge PERSON earned a leading place at the bar, satisfied the people of his judicial circuit as their judge, demonstrated his fitness to acceptably fill a place upon this bench; when it is added that he made a home, in which he was happy, married to a woman to whom he gave credit for much of his success, reared children, and generally fitted into his social environment with service and with hospitality; when it is considered that his usefulness seemed unimpaired until death came— when these things are said, not only is an earned and eloquent tribute paid to him, but the social loss occasioned by his death is made evident.

This court remembers with appreciation the carefully prepared, instructive, briefs and arguments he made in causes pending here. It has, too, the evidences of his learning and of the care he gave to the conduct of trials, preserved in the records of causes tried before him at the circuit. They gave promise of the aid he rendered the members of the court when he came to this bench and of the quality of the opinions he here delivered. In the consultation room, as elsewhere, he demonstrated that the store of knowledge he possessed was gathered for use and that it was at his command.
Outside of the law, he read widely and with discrimination, with an interest unabated, if not constantly growing, in whatever affected society. He seemed always to be growing, to be working well within his capacity and his limitations, to have powers never called into action. He was genial, unaffected, social.

As concerned his profession, and indeed all service which he gave, it may be thought that when a young man he read and was thereafter influenced by this wisdom of Carlyle:

“Remember now and always that life is no idle dream but a solemn reality, based on eternity and encompassed by eternity. Find out your task, stand to it; the night cometh when no man can work.”

Judge PERSON is now, and I think will be, best remembered as practicing lawyer and circuit judge. When those who knew him are gone, there will remain more than 50 opinions which he delivered from this bench, indisputable evidence of his high attainments, profoundly affecting people and interests born after he passed away.

 By Chief Justice Kuhn:
In closing these exercises, I desire to add to the fitting tributes paid our last associate a personal expression of the esteem and high regard which I had for him.

It was my privilege to become acquainted with him while I was presiding in the probate court of Macomb county, and there learned to appreciate his intimate and well-grounded knowledge of the great fundamental principles of the law. We soon became good friends, and the year we spent together in the work of this court was indeed a most pleasant association.

His kindly interest in his associates, his earnest desire to be helpful, and his persevering endeavor to reach the proper conclusion in all the intricate problems which confronted him, made him a most agreeable and valuable associate.
He was intensely interested in the court and its work, and often said that he hoped, upon retiring from the bench, to interest himself in getting legislation enacted to relieve the pressure of the work of this court. This was denied him by his untimely demise.

Michigan has indeed lost a very valuable citizen, the profession a great lawyer, and those who learned to know him a good friend.

The memorials which have been offered and the eulogies here pronounced will find a place in our records and be published in our reports.