Presentation Of The Portrait Of The Honorable Thomas F. Mcallister

DECEMBER 18, 1985

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: It’s my pleasure, on behalf of all the justices, to welcome each and every one of you on this very special occasion.

This is one occasion when there isn’t a loser; everybody’s a winner, and we’re very pleased to see so many old friends here. Rather than spending further time in welcoming you, I will proceed with our program, because we have some very distinguished speakers, and I know we’ll all be pleased to hear from them.

The first is a distinguished American who graced this bench, as well as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. His other accomplishments are so many I won’t list all of them, but will point out that he was closely associated with the gentleman about whom he will speak. So may I introduce the Honorable George Edwards.

 THE HON. GEORGE EDWARDS: Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Supreme Court of Michigan, it’s a very real pleasure to be back before this Court. I spent six very happy and fascinating years in, not these offices, but in the function which you ladies and gentlemen now perform.

We’re here today because a portrait has been prepared of former Justice Tom MCALLISTER, later a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Tom was a close friend of mine. I followed him on both of these courts, inherited his secretary in one instance, and some of his traditions in both instances.

He was born, his biography informs us, in 1896. It is fascinating to me that in this ceremony we’re spanning such a course of years. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan, and an LLB from the Law School at the University of Michigan.

TOM MCALLISTER was a person who cared about things that were going on in the world, and he illustrated that very early in his life by volunteering for the French Foreign Legion in World War I. He flew for two years, 1917 and 1918, those twin engine, lightly built prop planes where the machine gun, when fired, fired through the propeller. It was hazardous duty. He fought at the Marne, Meuse, and Verdun. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award that could be given to a flying officer in the French military forces.

When he completed that stint, he never flew again for fifty years. His judgment about his experiences had plainly told him that he had used up all of his good luck and good fortune in the air. That speaks about the man, even though it doesn’t say a thing about his activities as a justice of this Court.

He married Dorothy Wonderly Smith, and they had two daughters, one of whom I know is here and very interested in these proceedings. Tom ran for the Supreme Court of Michigan in 1937. He was elected, and served on this Court. Subsequently he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals, and he served there first as an active judge, then as chief judge, and then as a senior judge until his death. I had the honor of following him on both courts. I had a warm relationship with Tom and Dorothy. She was a wonderful person in her own right. Distinguished for many things, she was a part of the Roosevelt entourage, being a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and national Democratic committeewoman from Michigan.

Let me just give you a sample of the sorts of concerns that Tom MCALLISTER devoted his life to, first in the Supreme Court of Michigan, and then in the Court of Appeals for the United States in the Sixth Circuit.

In City of Dearborn v Ansell [290 Mich 348 (1939)], an ordinance had been passed that made it an offense under the laws of the City of Dearborn for anyone to distribute a leaflet unless it had been approved as to the truth of its factual contents by the city clerk. You may believe that this ordinance was struck down, and struck down by a unanimous court, at that time consisting of some of the most famous names that ever graced the bench in the State of Michigan. Tom’s opinion read in very small part:

The plain and direct effect of such ordinance, if enforced, would be to stifle and destroy the right to the expression and publication of all opinion on every controversial subject; and it would be surprising to find that such an ordinance would be enforced in all instances—against magazines of prominence, political parties, religious groups, and citizens of substance and distinction. Abuse of power and deprivation of rights can easily originate, and will be more usually found where the weak and defenseless are concerned. In this case, the ordinance was sought to be enforced against one of a group of impoverished working men without jobs and on relief roles; and its probability of success…
well, anyhow, he found the ordinance invalid.

[I]ts probability of success could only be reasonably predicated upon the obscurity and helplessness of the victim. But the defendant, in this case, relying upon the bill of rights, has appealed to us to reverse his conviction, on the ground that it is in violation of the right of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. [Id. at 353-354.]

And reversed it was.

The next case [Nephew v Dearborn Library Comm, 298 Mich 187 (1941)] illustrates his role as a dissenter, and Tom was frequently a dissenter, both in this Court and in the United States Court of Appeals. In this instance, again, the City of Dearborn had, through one of its branches of government, the Library Commission, passed a rule, and it sought to enforce that rule. The rule provided that any time a woman employee married she must perforce lose her employment. That sounds mighty strange these days, but the Supreme Court of Michigan said that that was a perfectly valid rule, and Tom MCALLISTER, joined only by Justice SHARPE, dissented.

MCALLISTER was a warm-hearted, handsome, able jurist, with compassion for people and the love of the law.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you Judge Edwards. Judge Engel, I know you’re a fellow countryman, and if you’d come up and say what’s in your heart.

 THE HON. ALBERT J. ENGEL: Mr. Chief Justice, members of this Honorable Bench, it’s been many years since I have stood before this Court, and in an entirely different capacity. It’s a pleasure to be here. I can remember something I did say a couple of months ago in Detroit when some of you were there, that the state and federal judiciaries of Michigan seem to be two independent judicial systems enjoying interchangeable parts. That of course is true today on your bench. It is true in the case of the man whom we are here to honor, and it is indeed a great pleasure to take part and to join with Judge Edwards in bringing you greetings from Chief Judge Lively of the Sixth Circuit and of all of the members of our court who knew and loved Judge MCALLISTER so well. I’m very happy to see so many of Judge MCALLISTER’S friends, his daughter Clair, and granddaughter Wonderly, and his brother and his nephews here. It’s wonderful to see them again, and I’m happy to see so many people here too from Grand Rapids and Cincinnati. I believe I came as sort of a spokesman from Grand Rapids, but I note on our program that that department is very, very well taken care of today.

About two years before his death, TOM MCALLISTER was on Mackinac Island at the Grand Hotel when President Ford attended the meeting of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the annual conference which was held there. It was a singular tribute to Tom that President Ford put aside most of his prepared remarks to concentrate on Judge MCALLISTER, and on his long acquaintance with him, which went way back to the time when they opposed one another in the race for the congressional seat in the Fifth Congressional District. He made the comment then that had it not been for two or three hundred votes one way or the other, they might have been interchangeable, occupying opposite positions.

Judge Edwards has told you many, many of the details, and of course those of us here who knew him so well are familiar with Tom’s past and all that he’s contributed. Eight years ago when he died it was a time of memorial services, respecting his memory, and paying tribute to that memory. Today we pay tribute to the continuing and enduring legacy which he has given to us and to the people of his community and of this nation, and to the evidence of that which comes in the unveiling of his portrait here in this impressive surrounding.

At the time of our service in Cincinnati, Siegel Judd was alive. Those of you who know who Siegel was knew him as an outstanding attorney and the founder of one of the most prestigious law firms in the State of Michigan, Warner, Norcross & Judd. Next to his family, he was probably Tom’s closest friend. While he couldn’t be there then, and he can’t today, I think it’s appropriate perhaps if I make my remarks in his words, rather than in my own. He said then, and I think it’s appropriate, that Tom MCALLISTER has never been far from my thoughts since our years as roommates and classmates in law school at the University of Michigan. Long before our university days we were boyhood rivals on competing neighborhood baseball teams. As a boy, and as a man, whether on the baseball diamond or in a court of law, he was always a worthy and honorable opponent. The most tolerant of men, TOM MCALLISTER was of a political persuasion which was different from mine, but that proved no barrier in our long association; nor did it ever threaten our friendship. If anything, it bound us closer together, for we had more things in common than matters in which we differed.

My affection for him was exceeded only by my respect and admiration for his accomplishments, his integrity, his scholarship, and his earnest devotion to the welfare and well-being of others. Always gracious, he had a host of friends, many from foreign countries whom he and his wife Dorothy entertained in their home. They visited the McAllister home because they were fond of wit and lively conversation, and because of the intellectual stimulation they encountered there. Judge MCALLISTER was not an obtrusive man; nor did he pontificate. When he spoke, it was with warmth and understanding, and a vast appreciation for the ideas of others. I never knew him to speak unkindly of anyone. He didn’t have time for tearing down. His mind and heart were preoccupied with more constructive impulses. Judge MCALLISTER has had a distinguished career, and many of the organizations he served became distinguished because of his participation in them. I miss him greatly since his death, but I don’t really have the feeling that he has left us. There is too much of him in the lives of all of us who knew him well. He gave of himself so generously that, while he isn’t living, I continue to feel his presence among us even now.

I hope all those who stop to view and admire his portrait as it takes its place with the other good men who have served this Honorable Court feel some of the compassion and the intellectual excitement, and the great humanity that were in Tom MCALLISTER, the man that we all knew and loved so well.

For myself and for the Sixth Circuit, I want to express our appreciation for your loaning him to us for the years that he spent after he left this distinguished bench, and our affection, our continuing regard for his family, and our observation in paying tribute that what a blessing it has been for all of us and for the nation to have known so noble a spirit.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you Judge Engel for those very eloquent words. And now from another distinguished member of that bench who’s acquired a little objectivity by going through, or should I say having been laundered through, a couple of other jobs, Wade McCree. Professor McCree.

 PROFESSOR WADE H. MCCREE, JR.: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, you may have observed that I left my manuscript at the desk, because following Judge Edwards and Judge Engel there’s very little one can say on almost any subject. When we were colleagues we used to broker our differences in conferences following the cases. But I must confess I didn’t know they were speaking today; nor did they know, as they tell me, that I was going to speak. So there is an overlap to some extent, and I hope I will be forgiven if I repeat something that they said. To curry your favor, I promise not to repeat deliberately any of it and to make my remarks brief.

I would like to say one or two things about Judge MCALLISTER the person, not the scholar that he was, not the jurist that he was, but the warm, kind, interested person that he was.

First, he was larger than life. I think of very few people as being like T. E. Lawrence, whom we know as Lawrence of Arabia. But here was a person who joined the French Foreign Legion who left school to do that–and, when he returned, things were a little different too. If you look at a biography of his, you will find difficulty ascertaining the date of his graduation from the University of Michigan Law School. That stems from the fact that he gave a party one evening at the Lawyers Club and invited in some wandering players and acrobats. He assumed full responsibility for all of the excitement of the evening, and he was asked to defer getting his degree from the university for a short spell because of his indiscretion. Fortunately the university proved why it is one of the great universities in the country, because it invited him to receive the degree that he had earned, and, in his gracious fashion, he did accept it.

He was a bibliophile, which probably made his relationship with Dorothy an even warmer one, because the Chief Justice may remember having appointed Mrs. McAllister to the State Library Board. On Tom’s death, when we went to his home, someone remarked that every inch of wall was covered by books, and described his house as a cave of books. And these were no mere decorations. He sat with a colleague of ours, Judge Bailey Brown of Memphis, on a case, and in a moment of irradiation Judge Brown used the phrase, “the pith and moment of the matter,” which of course Judge MCALLISTER recognized as Shakespeare. He said, “I think you mean the ‘pitch and moment of the matter.’ ” Bailey said, “No, I’m looking at Bartlett’s just now and it says the ‘pith and moment of the matter.’ ” This correspondence, which was shared with the other members, continued for about thirty days or so. Then Judge MCALLISTER, eschewing flying, took a ship to France and went to the hotel where he always stayed, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In due course, Bailey Brown, Judge Bailey Brown, received a letter from Judge MCALLISTER that said, “I have found it! I went into the Bibliotheque Nationale, and there was an original folio edition of Shakespeare, and it’s ‘pitch and moment.’” Judge Brown was, of course, appropriately admonished and accepted the suggestion, and the opinion was issued in course. This is the kind of man he was.

I have one other anecdote about him. It was a rare treat to go to a restaurant with him. He was a member of the La Societé d’Escoffier, and whenever he would go to a four-star restaurant he was immediately recognized by the maître d’ who would disappear into the kitchen. The chef would emerge and embrace him warmly, and Judge MCALLISTER would say, “And what do you recommend this evening for my friends who have accompanied me to your restaurant?” It was an experience that had to be lived to be remembered. He was a very, very warm man in all his respects.

One thing more, and then I will conclude. He had a heart big enough for everybody in the United States. When the Social Security Act, disability provisions, were being interpreted to deny a person benefits if there was a job anywhere in the nation he could do, he wrote a very telling opinion about a coal miner from Appalachia who had never been out of his county, and noted what a cruel hoax it was to tell him he could be a financial messenger on Wall Street. The Congress of the United States, the only body strong enough to turn Judge MCALLISTER around on this question, never convinced him; he just bowed to the inevitability of the power of accord in that body.

I will conclude by remembering from Shakespeare myself. Mark Anthony, in the last act of Julius Caesar says of the fallen Brutus:

“His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This was a man!”

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much Professor McCree: Before I call on the next speaker, the President of the State Bar, I’d like to recognize some of the people here whom I know.

I guess it was better than a quarter of a century ago that Judge MCALLISTER served on the Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, so I don’t think there’s any of the justices on this Court still here that can remember him. The oldest whom I’ve been in contact with, PAUL ADAMS, called earlier today and said that he had intended to, but couldn’t be here. But Justice BRENNAN is here. And Judge Hoffius of our Circuit Court. Then from the Federal District Court, the Chief Judge in the Western District, Wendell Miles; and Judge Hillman. Judge Feikens, Chief Judge of the Eastern District called me just about half and hour ago and said he’d intended to come, but was unable to make it.

I would like to read a letter from Dan Garber which is self-explanatory.

 Thank you for your kind invitation to attend the presentation of the portrait of Justice THOMAS F. MCALLISTER to the Court. I’m very sorry to say that I will be unable to attend. I didn’t know Justice MCALLISTER as a judge, but I did know him as a friend and as an exemplary human being: compassionate, thoughtful, wise–a man with a seemingly infinite zest for life. I had the feeling that Judge MCALLISTER took very little for granted, that he had the capacity to see everything as new, as if for the first time.
I’m honored to have known him, and pleased that the Court is so honoring him.

Let me now introduce George T. Roumell, the distinguished President of the State Bar of Michigan.

 MR. GEORGE T. ROUMELL, JR.: Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, it is a real pleasure to be before this Court on this occasion on behalf of the State Bar of Michigan. When I received the invitation it dawned on me that among other things we are honoring a real war hero.

Judge MCALLISTER, because of his service to freedom and the Republic of France, was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. The honor is so important that the Congress of the United States passed an act permitting him to wear it for the rest of his life. Near the end of his life, because of his friendship to the people of France, he was made by the government of France an officer of the Legion of Honor. He loved France.

After the War, he came home to Grand Rapids. Of course, nothing could be finer than practicing law with your father, and he did so for many years. Then, in 1937, the people of this great state elected him to your Court. And think of the names: MCALLISTER, EDWARD M. SHARPE, GEORGE E. BUSHNELL, BERT D. CHANDLER. In those years, Reyburn v Goodrich [292 Mich 91 (1940)], Dobson v Maytag Sales [292 Mich 107 (1940)], People v Connor [295 Mich 1 (1940)]—all great opinions—were written by Justice MCALLISTER. Then President Roosevelt appointed him to the Court of Appeals, where he served for thirty-five years.

Representing the bar, I should say to the audience that he believed in the organized bar, and he believed in improving justice, not only from the bench, but as a leader of the bar. He was affiliated with the Institute of Judicial Administration, the American Law Institute, the International Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the United Nations League of Lawyers, and the International Association of Penal Law. The listing of those organizations indicates the breadth of his interest in the law, for he loved the law.

I am not really adept to tell the true meaning of THOMAS MCALLISTER, and, therefore, I am relying on an old friend of his from Grand Rapids, a former editor of that great newspaper of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Press, who on the judge’s passing wrote:

Grand Rapids lost its most distinguished jurist, and one of the finest judges of the federal appellate system. He was, I think, one of the most incorruptible men, politically, morally, ethically, I have ever known. My life and the lives of many others were greatly enriched by his friendship and by his encouragement. He was a man of intellect. One who inspired young courts as much as he did young lawyers. A man in whose company the lowly could feel as comfortable as those of his own station. He was a democrat in the basic sense of that word, a man Thomas Jefferson would have loved and respected.

Now, as I read these words, I’ve really wondered what they meant. And I found out at the same meeting that Judge Engel has referred to. After all, there was a justice of the Supreme Court in the room and all the judges of the Sixth Circuit, and in walks the President of the United States. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “members of the judiciary,” and then he stops. That man, who is a member of the bar of Grand Rapids, looked and said, “My old friend THOMAS MCALLISTER is here.” That tells you something. That tells you that the leader of the free world at that time looked at that man and said he’s something special to us from Grand Rapids.

I don’t believe I could end my remarks without attempting to fall back on the French heritage of Michigan and suggest that THOMAS MCALLISTER, the best way I could describe him, was a champion de justice, a champion of justice, and we are lucky that he has graced this bench.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you George. And now, for the Grand Rapids Bar, we have the pleasure of introducing its president, L. Roland Roegge. Mr. Roegge?

 MR. L. ROLAND ROEGGE: Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, members of the McAllister family, honored guests. I thought when I was going to make this presentation that I would be first in line and therefore had lots of things to say. However, George just stole my quote, and the other members have so eloquently talked about Justice MCALLISTER that I hope you won’t mind some repetition.

I am here today on behalf of the Grand Rapids Bar Association to present to this Court the portrait of Justice THOMAS F. MCALLISTER. When I moved to Grand Rapids about twenty-three years ago, Justice MCALLISTER had just been elevated to senior status on the United States Court of Appeals. I had come from Mayor Daley’s City of Chicago, and when I saw Justice MCALLISTER’S credentials I naturally assumed that he had all of the right ones to be either a politician or an elected judge. For, after all, he was Irish, Catholic, and a Democrat. However, it didn’t take me long, living in Grand Rapids, to know what an uphill battle it must have been for Justice MCALLISTER.

He did have unsuccessful ventures in the legislative branch, with defeats in the Fifth District congressional elections in 1934 and 1936. But that turned into a big victory for the judicial branch, and also for the people of the State of Michigan. For, as you have heard, Justice MCALLISTER was elected to an eight-year term on this Court in 1937 and then served on the Court until 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is fascinating to me to witness the present box office craze for Sylvester Stallone’s movies of Rocky and Rambo. And since this record might outlive the memories of those recent movies, I should hastily add the reruns of Ronald Reagan playing George Gip in the famous Rockne movie. This, to me, demonstrates the public’s desire for hero worship, if you will, or to identify with a hero. As I was thinking about the remarks that I might make today, I thought, if Hollywood wanted to make a movie about someone who could be a hero for everyone, they couldn’t do better than to make a movie about THOMAS F. MCALLISTER, for those who live, people with valor and courage. We’ve already heard remarks about how Justice MCALLISTER went, in his third year at the University of Michigan, persuading some people to go with him, and fought for France before the United States entered the First World War, and how there he received the Croix de Guerre and was also named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. For those who like intellect, Justice MCALLISTER demonstrated it with the scholarship on his opinions. He had a personal library of over 6,000 volumes which included works of his lifetime interest, namely, the law, his Irish heritage, and books about France. Perhaps his most distinguished characteristic as a judge, however, was his compassion for the less fortunate, the poor, the litigant who brought nothing to the courtroom except for his human cause. True to a Hollywood ending, Justice MCALLISTER was a family man, who, along with his successful wife, Dorothy Wonderly Smith, raised two fine daughters, one of whom is here with us today, Mrs. Claire White. The only problem that Hollywood might have in making such a movie is I don’t think they could find a person to cast who would be either handsome enough, or distinguished looking enough to play the lead role.

I am reminded of a story that perhaps you’ve heard, but I hope you’ll bear with me, about Oliver Wendell Holmes, which I think is appropriate today. Charles Hopkinson’s impressive portrait of Justice Homes, which hangs in the library of the Harvard Law School, is a full-length picture of the judge in his fine robe with his very distinguished white hair and mustache, and when the justice saw the picture for the first time he said, “That isn’t me, but it’s a damn good thing for people to think it is.” With Justice MCALLISTER, the reverse would be true. While the painter’s remarkable likeness that we will see soon is an artistic success, no one could capture the many facets and attributes of this man.
Since George has already quoted from Gerald Elliott, I will at this time just state further that it is indeed my privilege and honor to present this portrait of your brother in the law, the Honorable THOMAS F. MCALLISTER.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.

[At which time the portrait of the Honorable THOMAS F. MCALLISTER was unveiled.]

 CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAMS: I don’t think I’ve really been left much room to make any remarks. After all of the distinguished eloquence, I feel that I better place myself with those who were going to rise from the audience to say a few words. I can’t resist saying a few words, however. I knew Dorothy McAllister better than Tom. At that time he was a judge and I was an aspiring politician, and you know who could help me more—the national Democratic committeewoman, rather than a judge. And so I saw a great deal of her, and not quite as much of Tom. But hat I did see of him was really most impressive, just as everyone has said. It would be very difficult to find anyone to play his part in any cinema, because he really had a commanding presence. When he came into the room, you knew it. But his presence wasn’t domineering; it was gracious and friendly. Some of us were chatting about him, and we said he was perhaps the most courtly person we ever saw. He could have outshone all the courtiers in the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, XVI, and the Charlesses—he really had a style. But that style was not an elegant covering of emptiness; that style was an emanation of the value within. Because, as everyone has pointed out who has spoken, he was a scholar, he was a soldier in the best sense of the word, who had gone to serve humanity as well as his country. He was one to whom all of us could look for leadership. And certainly this Court is very happy and proud to have his portrait—to be an inspiration to all of us, and to everyone who comes here.

If everybody’s content that what should be said has been said, we will retire to the little foyer outside to socialize and congratulate the McAllister family in having given us such a remarkable citizen. A man who really made his mark in the world, and be thankful for his great legacy.

[At which time the Court was adjourned.]