Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable G. Mennen Williams


CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Welcome to the family, colleagues and friends of our late Chief Justice, G. MENNEN WILLIAMS.

The justices of the Michigan Supreme Court have convened in special session this afternoon for a ceremony in connection with the presentation of the portrait of our former chief. Justice ARCHER cannot be with us this afternoon; however, he sends his very warmest wishes to the family and friends of Chief Justice WILLIAMS.

In the life of former Ambassador, Governor and Chief Justice WILLIAMS, there were no little people. Everyone was special to him. Everyone was treated with dignity and remembered by name. That is why he was the giant that he was, and that is why I know that each of you here this afternoon was special to him. So special, that I would hesitate to pick and choose among you for introductions, and thus I shall not even try. For in my mind’s eye I can see him now— working the crowd with a personal greeting for each of you.

On January 6, 1987, at the investiture of our ninety-sixth justice, the Honorable ROBERT P. GRIFFIN, I indicated that I believed no institution is more akin to a family than the institution of the highest court of this state. That fact was poignantly brought home to each of the justices on the day of Justice GRIFFIN’S investiture because it was that same week that our beloved Chief Justice WILLIAMS had retired from this Court after eighteen wonderful years, for four of those years having served with brilliance as our Chief Justice. We had lost a family member and his departure from the Court brought us much sadness. But, as in all families, we were certain the new member of the family would bring happiness and great expectations, and this he has done.

That is the strength I believe that is built into this Court, and it is that strength that I believe you honor this afternoon in the presentation of Chief Justice WILLIAMS’ portrait to our Court. Thus, it pleases me to begin our ceremony this afternoon by introducing the President of the State Bar of Michigan—of almost 27,000 lawyers in Michigan—the Honorable Robert B. Webster.

 THE HONORABLE ROBERT B. WEBSTER: May it please the Court, Madam Chief Justice, justices, friends of G. MENNEN WILLIAMS. I was extremely pleased to receive an invitation to speak today at this dedication of the justice’s portrait. Pleased because of the great personal respect and admiration I had for Justice WILLIAMS, and pleased to represent, as president of the State Bar, the lawyers and judges of this state who I know share that respect and admiration. Those lawyers and judges also owe a great debt of gratitude to the man whose life we celebrate today. That debt was incurred not only for the acts of Justice WILLIAMS on behalf of the organized bar, but for his approach to life and the law that taught us all a great deal about both. Many speakers who follow me will no doubt cite Justice WILLIAMS’ tremendous life achievements, as well they should. His varied resumé is evidence of the great ability of the man to adapt his considerable skills to meet the needs of whatever job he tackled. It is this flexibility and adaptability that I want to take note of here today.

Justice WILLIAMS at his death had been a member of the State Bar of Michigan for over fifty years, but it is no secret that while he was Governor he had been less than an enthusiastic supporter of the organized bar—feeling it to be, frankly, elitist and not the deliberative body that he wished it to be. While he was sitting on the Supreme Court, however, he accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of the Board of Commissioners—which I can assure you is indeed a life experience. While he was to be there for a very brief period of time, he apparently became so enthralled with the fact that we actually were working and considering things, that he stayed through the entire meeting.

From that time forward, he became a tremendous asset to the State Bar as he joined us at many other meetings where he shared his wise counsel and graced us with his infectious good humor and common sense. That does not mean, as some present here today can attest, that his support for the bar was uncritical, nor would we have wished it to be. It means that he recognized that the State Bar is indeed a serious, deliberative body with an important role to play in the lives of our state and that by and large it fulfills that role well. This change, mind you, came late in life. Not all of us have the ability to remain that flexible as we mature. I know I could probably benefit from a fresh look at people and issues from time to time. To Justice WILLIAMS, such a fresh look was second nature. That quality, I believe, is what made him so special and so irreplaceable. It is that quality captured in the portrait that we dedicate today. When it is unveiled, look for it. It is there. Justice WILLIAMS knew the importance of conveying that quality to others.

He once said that a judge is the last arbiter against oppression, injustice or loss of freedom and he or she must be more than a good lawyer. A judge must be a person of real understanding. On behalf of the members of the State Bar, particularly the many who contributed to this project, I celebrate that understanding through the dedication of this portrait of Chief Justice G. MENNEN WILLIAMS—and if I may, Soapy. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Thank you, Mr. President. And now, a former justice of our Michigan Supreme Court, the very honorable OTIS SMITH.

 HONORABLE OTIS M. SMITH: May it please the Court—Madam Chief Justice, members of the Court, members of the judiciary, Nancy and family, ladies and gentlemen. I am extremely grateful for the very special privilege of being allowed to say a few words at this presentation of the likeness of our late friend and colleague G. MENNEN WILLIAMS.

In 1948 when I was a law student in a school miles away from here, I read in Time magazine about a young lawyer who was running for Governor of Michigan. And in faith, I voted for him, and it got to be a habit, because this faith was vindicated time and time again by his high standards of performance as a public servant, including sixteen years on this bench. The qualities we shall all remember are not only his great personal warmth, his generosity of spirit even to his opponents and, yes, even the bow tie—but we will always remember his stubborn insistence on discussing issues rather than a lot of garbage often, all too often, associated with certain political types. Most importantly, he exhibited pure unalloyed integrity. He was always honest with the people and with the public property. Here is a man who used his personal telephone credit card when calling his mother and who parked the state vehicle during the months of his election campaigns and jumped into his own, beat-up station wagon. He was what every public official ought to be.

Once when I visited him in Washington, when he was Assistant Secretary of State, feeling that he was, to use a currently popular expression, “underutilized,” I suggested that he ought to seek a seat on the United States Supreme Court, remembering his outstanding scholarship in prep school, in college, and in law school. He demurred saying, something like, “I’m not sure I could do a good job.” Of course he would have made an eminent federal justice, as he was a state justice. It is for this accomplishment that we honor him today.

You who were his colleagues on the bench knew his strengths better than the rest of us. But it always seemed to me that one of his great attributes was that he always understood the broad policy implications of the law in question, which, of course, made him more than a good technician, but a great justice.

In closing let me say, Madam Chief Justice, that last summer when I was on Mackinac Island, I picked up a little pot of red geraniums from the Grand Hotel, walked back to the cemetery to place it on his grave, as I tried to remember the words of tribute paid to him by the Washington Post on his passing. They were, and I am quoting: “To all his work, Gov. WILLIAMS brought a sweetness of character that was one of his political strengths.” He was, the Post said, “one of an outstanding class of postwar liberal politicians who worked hard to make America a better place, and in a great many ways succeeded.” Washington Post, February 4, 1988. Members of the Court, thank you for allowing me to present this little geranium this afternoon. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Thank you, Justice SMITH. And now, a member of the Court’s family, Marilyn K. Hall, our State Court Administrator.

 THE HONORABLE MARILYN K. HALL: Thank you very much. Madam Chief Justice, justices, family members and Michiganders. May it please the Court, today I speak to you of one of Michigan’s greatest citizens, great Governor and justice of this Court.

For those of us who had the privilege of working with Soapy during his days on the Supreme Court, we feel especially blest because of the lessons that he brought to us. We are the beneficiaries of all of his prior learning, whether it be in his days in the governorship, his days in Africa, the Philippines or life in general. I say that we are the beneficiaries because he never missed an opportunity to share with us those lessons—often told in the form of a humorous story in which he was the butt of the joke. Such lessons were usually taught in his office at lunch with all of the staff gathered around the table sharing their latest adventures and, if someone had forgotten to pack a lunch, sharing the Governor’s peanut butter sandwich as well. Those lessons were indeed the essence of WILLIAMS. What is the essence of WILLIAMS? An insatiable curiosity to understand life and to learn all that could be known about the world and the people in it. One might expect that Governor WILLIAMS, having traveled around the world several times, would have seen it all. But whether studying the subtle intricacies of a complex legal issue or asking a kindergartner where he lived or his age, Soapy really wanted to know. He put his whole mind to any task he undertook.

When John O’Meara asked me to speak here today, he said, don’t be afraid to invoke a little humor if you think it would be something Soapy might enjoy. So, I’ll give it a try. Let me tell you one example of his curiosity.
In his last days on the Court, Chief Justice WILLIAMS was considering buying a new car. My husband, Bill, who thinks that a car is a form of art, offered to be of assistance in shopping for this car. The first day they went to a dealership, Soapy sort of sat back and let Bill do all the talking. Bill talked about disc brakes, exhaust systems, suspensions and other mechanical operations of the car. Soapy just sat back and sort of listened. Well, the Governor’s curiosity got to him. He did his homework and the next week when they went back to a dealership, not only was Bill surprised, but the car salesman as well, when Soapy started out with a little bit of car talk in such studied detail that only a mechanic would have known that he hadn’t had those interests all of his life. But no one was really as surprised as the sales person when he insisted upon a road test that met the conditions of Jefferson Avenue after a hard winter. If any of you have ever driven down Jefferson Avenue after a hard winter, you know that there are a lot of potholes, that it’s not the most pleasant place to drive. Soapy insisted upon a test drive and to achieve so much he had to do a little off track driving in the Town Car to test the new suspension—so he put it to the test. I think this is one example of his curiosity and open-mindedness, the always willingness to learn something new.

He taught us that having an open, inquiring mind is life’s greatest gift and he used his gift for the people of Michigan. We are all, indeed, the beneficiaries. We will certainly look forward to seeing his smiling face in the Law Building again. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Now, from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Judge John Feikens.

 THE HONORABLE JOHN FEIKENS: Madam Chief Justice, may it please the Court, and may it please you, too, Nancy. During the decades of the fifties and sixties, there was in Michigan a rare combination of people and events. I can think of no other time that resembles or even comes close to what occurred in these two decades. I say to you flatly that what occurred then, and my interpretation of it, is not the product of an aging mind. Michigan in those decades had a unique number of giants in political leadership. Before I enlarge on that point, let me say that many of us in this room this afternoon I am sure can say as I do that our involvement in politics at that time permitted us to meet an unusual number of interesting, intelligent, and dedicated men and women. While my participation in legal affairs also provided me with the opportunity of meeting many fine people, it is a distant second to the people I met in politics during that era.

Consider the giants who were our leaders then. On the Democratic side Phil Hart, Neil Staebler, and I deliberately paint with a broad brush when I add such outstanding individuals as Walter Reuther and Douglas Fraser. Examples also abound on the Republican side D. Hale Brake, George Romney, William Milliken, John Hannah, and Robert Griffin. Forgive me for keeping the list small. I can add to it in substantial amounts, but it makes my point and that is this: At no time was there ever such a convergence of outstanding people who were leaders in politics and in government in Michigan. But preeminent in this group and an outstanding person was G. MENNEN “SOUPY” WILLIAMS.

Soapy WILLIAMS—what a giant he was. During the fifties, when Neil Staebler was chairman of the Democratic Party and I was privileged to be chairman of the Republican Party, I came to know Soapy. It is amazing the amount of knowledge you gain while suffering defeat. In the years when I was chairman, he beat us every time. I recall in 1956 when President Eisenhower was sweeping the state with fifty-six percent of the vote, there was Soapy winning the governorship by the same margin. I still wince when I think of the way that he went through the state ably convincing the majority of the people to vote for him. And what they got in good measure in return was intelligent, compassionate, and honest government.

That era was marked by good government administered by top-notch people. Soapy not only knew how to be elected but, even more importantly, he knew how to govern—and so did those other giants. It is an era, unfortunately, that is past. But today we all have warm remembrances. Mine is, as I have attempted to say here, the recollection of a remarkable person we all were fortunate to know.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: And now, a colleague of Judge Feikens, the Honorable Horace Gilmore.

 THE HONORABLE HORACE W. GILMORE: Madam Chief Justice, members of the Court, Nancy and family, and ladies and gentlemen.

For more than fifty years, G. MENNEN WILLIAMS served the people of Michigan and the United States as Governor, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, United States Ambassador to the Philippines, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and finally Chief Justice.

Lots of things can happen in fifty years of leadership in government. Mennen liked to tell three stories. He said when he was Governor, often while walking down the street people would approach him and talk to him. Once a man and his wife stopped him and the man said, “Oh, Soapy, I know you. You were at my club’s party and you danced with my wife two years ago.” He said years later when he had become a justice of the Supreme Court he was walking down the street and a young woman spotted him and said, “Oh, I know you! You were Governor. One summer when I was at the State Fair as a little kid my family was there and you were dancing with my mother.” But the best one, the last one of all, is the story he told about what happened when he was Chief Justice. Again he was walking down the street and this man came along and said, “Oh, Soapy. Long time no see. What have you been doing lately?”

As Governor, his leadership in education, mental health, civil rights, equal rights for women, highways, the development of the Democratic Party, the making of Michigan into a true bipartisan state, and the construction of the Mackinac Bridge, otherwise known as “Soapy’s folly,” are noteworthy. I want to speak very briefly today about his service on the Michigan Supreme Court and his deep concern for the judiciary.

In 1970, he was elected to the Supreme Court and reelected and served until his retirement in 1986. His last four years on the Court were spent as Chief Justice, and he was the second man in Michigan to serve in both positions. The other was Epaphroditus Ransom who served as Chief Justice from 1845 to 1848 and as Governor from 1848 to 1850. As Governor he had a deep concern for the judiciary and felt there was no more important responsibility than the appointment of judges. He was praised for the quality of his judicial appointments. He felt strongly that the law was an instrument of progress to achieve objectives for the common good that would otherwise be unattainable. He understood fully the importance of the judiciary to the effective operation of a democracy.

As justice of the Supreme Court, he wrote 546 majority, dissenting and concurring opinions, 212 of these were majority opinions. Even a cursory examination of criminal cases reveals that WILLIAMS had a deep concern for the protection of individual constitutional rights. On civil rights, he wrote clearly and forcefully. He gave meaning to the various civil rights statutes of Michigan, pointing out that these statutes sought to eliminate all discrimination, not just discrimination of a purposeful and invidious nature. He was deeply concerned about the environment. He wrote the first opinion interpreting Michigan’s pioneering environmental protection act and, speaking for the Court, he determined that it was necessary for trial judges to provide detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law to insure that the environmental protection act fulfilled those goals for which it was enacted.

He was a leader in areas of private law, in developing the common law and in using the courts to expand private rights. He developed the alternative liability theory in drug injury cases. He wrote the opinion that replaced the doctrine of contributory negligence with the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. In addition, he made great contributions as Chief Justice and, in that position, had another lasting impact on the judiciary of Michigan: he brought his administrative skills honed to a fine degree through years of leadership to the chief justiceship.

One of his Supreme Court colleagues remembers him as a person who worked hard to develop the art of collegial decision making. He also called him the quintessential Christian in the pursuit of justice. G. MENNEN WILLIAMS spearheaded a brilliant and comprehensive plan for the modernization of the state court system. He wanted to be sure that all Michigan citizens were served equally by the One Court of Justice. He established a Case flow Management Coordinating Commission to improve caseflow management for the benefit of the litigants. He set up citizens committees to study both race and sex discrimination in the courts. He set up a task force in the probate courts to deliver services to families and children.

Throughout all of his adult life and all of his public service, he had a remarkable partner, his wife Nancy. She was an effective campaigner, an hospitable first lady who opened her home to all groups. She traveled with him as Governor and Chief Justice to every corner of Michigan, throughout Africa and the Philippines, where he was ambassador. At home, she entertained foreign visitors and diplomats. She was a true partner of MENNEN WILLIAMS in all of his endeavors. As you all well know, an important part of his life was his three children and seven grandchildren—many of whom are here today.

G. MENNEN WILLIAMS was a great human being whose splendid life will be remembered for generations, especially in Michigan but also well beyond her borders.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Thank you Judge Gilmore. And now, a former law clerk of Chief Justice G. Mennen Williams and a member of the law firm of Dickinson Wright, Claudia Rast.

 MS. CLAUDIA RAST: Chief Justice RILEY, members of the Court, the Williams family, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored and delighted to be here today to say a few words on behalf of the law clerks and many student interns that had the opportunity to work for G. MENNEN WILLIAMS, who we affectionately called “the Governor” or the “Guv.”
As I was thinking about what I was going to say at this presentation that would perhaps reflect our experience as law clerks or student interns, three broad impressions came to mind that I believe the Governor left with every law clerk and every student intern that worked for him.

The first impression was what he taught us as a lawyer and as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Of course he taught us the law, but not the law as it is discussed and dissected in most law schools. He taught us that as lawyers and judges our work could have a tremendous impact on the lives of many people. And while he deeply believed in the legal principle of precedence or stare decisis, he also believed that the law is dynamic and evolving and should be reflective of the people it affects. We learned from him a great respect for the law and the legal system. A respect that he taught us to continue by and through our own example. He taught us to think with wisdom and care and to consider our careers in the law as a form of stewardship. A stewardship that was always conscious and considerate of the rights of others. We also learned that legal representation should be available not only to those who could afford our fees, but also to those who could not.

The second impression was what he taught us as a politician and as a leader. As a politician, he taught us that integrity could still be very much a part of the political process and he gave hope to those young lawyers and students who thought they might want to give politics a try. As a leader, he taught us about collegiality, compromise and communication. One of the greatest pleasures we had as clerks was to accompany him on out-of-office functions. Watching faces light up as he entered a meeting room or a restaurant was a true indication of the kind of leader he was and the amount of admiration people of all political parties had for him. He taught us that for any two-sided argument there was always a third position, and that could resolve a stalemate. We just had to search for it. He taught us that effective leaders must inform their public and that with good and frequent communication comes trust and loyalty.

The third impression was what he taught us as a person, and he was like a father to us. As a person, he taught us a special brand of humility. He was a legend to us, and we were in awe of him. Yet he taught us, through his example, that we were never more talented or more knowledgeable than the next person and, if perhaps we had the good fortune to have some particular abilities, it was our responsibility to give something back, to share these abilities with those who were less fortunate. He taught us that we were never too important to forget the names of those who parked our cars or who vacuumed our offices at night. He loved people and they loved him right back. He was our mentor, our teacher, and we’ll always remember him.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Thank you, Claudia. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Mr. John O’Meara who is the chair of the G. MENNEN WILLIAMS Portrait Committee.

 MR. JOHN CORBETT O’MEARA: Thank you, your honor. May it please the Court. Madam Chief Justice and justices, Nancy and the Williams family, ladies and gentlemen.

I will be brief, but I must take time to thank the many people the committee should thank. Please forgive me if I miss anybody. First of all let me express the committee’s appreciation to all of you, many of whom are here, who contributed so generously to the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society Fund to commission the WILLIAMS portrait. While I never met Paul Burns, the artist, I want to thank him. I talked to him several times on the telephone, as did the Chief Justice. I wish I had met him. As you know, he died shortly after completing this portrait. It was his last, and more than that, he knew while he was painting the portrait that it would almost certainly be his last. I think he perhaps put something extra into it because of that.

I want to thank the Chief Justice and the Court for their support and involvement. The Chief Justice herself was very much involved in talking to the artist about the size of the portrait, the framing of the portrait, the background against which the portrait would be hung at the Supreme Court in Lansing—all of these things the committee would have been incompetent to do or at least this chairperson would, and we appreciate the Chief Justice’s help in that respect.

Of course I would like to thank the committee itself for its support and especially Horace Gilmore, Avern Cohn, Ted Souris and Otis Smith who originally twisted my arm and provided advice when I needed it, and they thought I needed a lot of it from time to time, and I guess I did. I want to thank, too, each of our speakers who so far, and Bishop Breitenbeck who will give the benediction later, for your remarks this afternoon.

A couple of other people I should express appreciation to are Tom Farrell whose work with me to get us to this ceremony today forged anew an old friendship, Ted Gatzaris whose company is catering the reception immediately following this presentation, and, finally, Wally Riley and the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society for the great help that they gave us.

Indeed the man who was your chief, and who was to many of us “the Governor,” was larger than life. He contributed so much. He stood for so much for so long that all of us necessarily remember him in different ways. When I thought about what characteristic of his during his long, public career I most wanted to call attention to in a brief presentation, I find myself somewhat surprised that I came so quickly to the answer: G. MENNEN WILLIAMS’ intolerance of intolerance. Throughout his long career I think it’s fair to say that he did more than any other majoritarian male, certainly more than any other majoritarian male in Michigan to contribute to whatever progress we have made since World War II to bring into the mainstream minorities and women who were so long held out. He cared deeply about people. That is a recurrent theme which others have spoken to this afternoon and he was deeply offended when one’s color, religion, or sex prejudiced the opportunities available.

Someone once said that you can measure the size of a person by the size of the issues which concern or even anger him or her. When MENNEN WILLIAMS was angry, it was usually because something negative was happening to someone because of that person’s sex, race, or religion. He very seldom, Dean Herlong, except reverently, invoked the name of the Deity. The few times he did it in my presence it was to emphasize and underline how odious he found any kind of invidious discrimination. It is his intolerance of intolerance which I first remember when I think of him today.
I count it a very great privilege to be here today on behalf of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society and the Williams Portrait Committee to present to you, as I do now, along with the request that you accept and cherish it, this portrait of our late Governor and your late chief, G. MENNEN WILLIAMS.

[At which point the portrait was unveiled.]

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: As you can see, it is an absolutely magnificent portrait. You feel as though he is going to just rise and walk out into the crowd.

John, my colleagues and I gratefully accept this handsome portrait of Chief Justice WILLIAMS to be hung in the courtroom of the Michigan Supreme Court in Lansing. We do deeply regret that the distinguished artist who painted the portrait, the late Paul Burns of New Jersey, could not be with us this afternoon. But we are grateful to him for his magnificent last work.

We thank you Mr. O’Meara and your committee and the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society for making this day possible. For in so doing, you have brought our beloved chief home to the Court—where his portrait in our courtroom will keep alive our admiration and affection for him.

We are particularly pleased that Chief Justice WILLIAMS’ son Gery could be with us this afternoon. I am going to ask him to introduce the members of the Williams’ family who are with us.

 MR. G. MENNEN WILLIAMS, JR.: Thank you very much. I’m sure dad has got a twinkle in his eye somewhere. This is very ironic. The greatest frustration I think I ever produced for dad was that I did not complete law school, then here I stand before such an august court. I would like to introduce the family and to thank all of you, on behalf of the family, for your contributions and hard work that led to this. Your sentiments are very much appreciated. We cannot thank you enough.

Since I’ve been back, I have been asked how the family was doing. We haven’t sent out Christmas cards for several years, so let me give you a living Christmas card if I might. My mother, Nancy Williams. Mom, do you want to stand so everybody can see you? The newest member of our family, that we’re so glad to have, Jim Gram. The one that we now refer to as the patriarch of the family—I don’t think he appreciates that a whole lot—uncle Dick Williams, dad’s brother; his wife, aunt Molly Williams; and their daughter, Judy Williams. My one sister from Boston [Nancy Ketterer] was unable to be with us today, but our other sister Wendy [Burns] is here. Wendy, would you stand, and we’ll introduce your family. Her son Michael Burns; the twins, Brad and Becky; and Nancy Burns. I’d like to introduce my family, if I might. My wife Lannie, and G. Mennen Williams, III. Our daughter LeeAnn is unable to be here because she is in the midst of her law school exams. I think that is where dad would prefer she be today.

Again, thank you all for such a moving occasion. We look forward to seeing you at the reception. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: Thank you, Gery. I’m pleased to tell you, though, that these proceedings have been recorded and they will be memorialized in an early volume of the Michigan Reports. Moreover, for the first time in the history of our Court, this memorialization will include a color print of the portrait presented this afternoon. In addition, for the first time, I have arranged for the cover of the volume to be banded to indicate that a record of these proceedings is contained therein. A copy of that volume, I believe it will be volume 434, Nancy, will become available, and we will see that you have it so that you and the members of your family will have a record of these proceedings. I have also asked that copies of this record and this volume be maintained for posterity by the members of the Michigan Historical Society and now for a very special presentation, I introduce Mr. Wallace D. Riley.

 MR. WALLACE D. RILEY: Thank you, Chief Justice. Justices, Williams family, ladies and gentlemen. Chief Justice WILLIAMS is now a part of the Michigan Supreme Court history. The Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society was organized as a Michigan nonprofit corporation about two years ago and the society was established to preserve documents and records and memorabilia relating to the Michigan judiciary. As part of its activities, it will promote public education and awareness of the historical significance of the Michigan Supreme Court which has often played a key role in the development of our nation’s laws.

In order to achieve these goals, the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society has planned various activities including publishing an index of tributes and portraits, such as have occurred today—an index for the Michigan Reports. The society has already commissioned an historical marker which was put in place at the rededication of the old Supreme Court Chambers in the State Capitol Building in Lansing. The society anticipates publishing a history of the Court based upon oral histories from persons who have a firsthand knowledge of the Court and its history and past justices.
The society’s activities are financed by tax deductible membership dues and contributions. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the members and contributors, including the portrait contributors, who have joined and who have contributed to the society. We invite all others. The society is not only for lawyers. It is for nonlawyers as well. Those of you who are, or who have friends or associates who are, interested in legal matters historical should consider joining and supporting the society.

Lately, I must confess, I have developed a fondness for saying that behind every successful woman there’s a man. Most of you are more familiar with the traditional quote that behind every successful man there’s a woman. When it comes to Mennen and Nancy, you can say it either way. At this time, Nancy, so that you will have a memory of this occasion of all of these fine tributes that have been paid to your dear Soapy, I want to present to you your picture of the portrait that you may carry away. Cherish it as we have cherished him. With our best wishes.

 MRS. NANCY WILLIAMS GRAM: Madam Chief Justice and the Court. May I just say that this is a very moving experience for me. I would especially like to say how much I really like the portrait. I think it is lifelike, it’s genuine. Sometimes it is hard to say that you really like a painting, because sometimes they don’t look like the person, but I really think that it is an excellent portrait. Soapy’s happiest days I think were maybe spent with all of you. He loved his work with the Court, and he loved the things the Court was doing. For the rest of us who got to make friendships of you all, I felt that you were also part of our family. May I add my thanks to all of you and to John O’Meara for what he has done to put this occasion together and to tell you again how much it means to all of our family. Thank you.

CHIEF JUSTICE RILEY: We thank you all for joining us this afternoon for the unveiling of the portrait of the Honorable G. MENNEN WILLIAMS, statesman, Governor, husband, father, and most important to us, our chief, the eighty-fourth justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. And now, a great friend of G. MENNEN WILLIAMS and a great friend of this Court, Bishop Breitenbeck to deliver the benediction.

 THE MOST REVEREND JOSEPH M. BREITENBECK: May it please you Chief Justice RILEY, justices of the Court, my good friend Nancy, family and friends. I have just a personal word. I think it was the second year that G. MENNEN WILLIAMS was Governor of Michigan. I was secretary to Cardinal Mooney, who was then the Archbishop of Detroit. He was coming for dinner. I opened the door and he says, “I’m Soapy Williams.” I never thought that I would be speaking to a governor by his first name. I saw that night what you said, Chief Justice RILEY.

He had respect and appreciation for the great and the nongreat. In those days I was the nongreat, and he was very kind to me. Later on he came to Grand Rapids many times to preside at the renewal of the oath taken by lawyers at our Red Mass. It is an honor and a privilege to be here.

Let us pray. We are gathered here this afternoon in a very special session of the Michigan Supreme Court and we turn to you, Almighty God, as we honor the memory of former Chief Justice G. MENNEN WILLIAMS. Human rights are given by you, the Supreme Judge, and protected by the Constitution of our land. How wonderfully, through your inspired words of scripture, you challenge our justices and our legal profession in the protection of those rights. Through your prophet in the Old Testament, you prescribed the essential criteria for those who assume the awesome responsibility of judging others: Act honestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak or deference to the mighty. Give ear to the lowly and to the great alike, and fear no one.

G. MENNEN WILLIAMS took a solemn oath to uphold that ideal and as family members, justices, judges, members of the legal profession and friends, we pay this tribute to him. In his years of public service, particularly in that prestigious position of Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, he strove to implement that ideal in the decisions which so deeply affected the lives of others. In his personal contacts, he was admired for his exemplary fulfillment of the admonition to judges—give ear to the lowly and to the great alike. As we honor and pay tribute to him, we ask you, Almighty God, to reward him for striving to fulfill in his life your ideal of justice for all.
Thank you, Chief Justice.