Jean, Courtenay, Douglas, David. Thank you for allowing us to share your loss and to celebrate Gary’s life.
At the beginning of the Legal Services Program I asked Gary to be the deputy director; my partner. Gary could not then leave Community Action Agency. He had recently become the deputy. We talked about legal services for the poor. Gary had ideas, lots of ideas, as he always did. His eyes twinkled, as they almost always did. He smiled, as he did so often. And I can hear him say, with an earnest voice, as he always did after he listened; something like “I have an idea for you. Let me tell you. Earl Johnson would be a great deputy. You ought to talk to him.” I did. Gary was right. That was the beginning of good advice from Gary for 35 years and two enduring friendships.
Gary did not override my ideas; did not dominate that conversation - as he had every right to do. Gary was a leader in the “movement”; - thinking about the fit of legal services in the War on Poverty, with Jeanne Cahn, Abe Chayes and Adam Yarmolinsky, all of blessed memory, and Edgar Cahn who is here today. I came to the work with neither history nor ideas. Gary did not plow me under: he cultivated me. That was his style always. No one was disqualified from a conversation. Friends and clients were people with lessons to teach, perspectives to view the world more clearly and joys and sorrows to share. Gary listened like very few listen.
Jean and Edgar Cahn’s Yale Law Review article, The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective, was the text for the design of legal services for the poor. Earlier this week Edgar reminded me that Gary’s contribution to their article was so significant that they wanted to include him as a co-author. Gary did not agree that his efforts merited such recognition.
Edgar shared with me a letter that Gary wrote to Jean when she was dying. The letter tells so much about Gary; the man he was and how he behaved. With Edgar’s permission I will read a paragraph.
But my favorite memory - I’m sure you know - came much earlier in our relationship and probably forever bound me to Edgar and you. There we were - two meetings into efforts to get the United States government to fund legal services (something most state governments considered inconceivable at the time) and, as we walked home, we realized - implausibly, improbably, impossibly - that it was going to happen. We couldn’t describe exactly how - the plans for the conferences and speeches and bureaucratic maneuvers came later - or why we were so sure, but we looked at each other and we just knew. And knowing, we suddenly began skipping down the street. I don’t recall whether we all began skipping together or you and I skipped, and Edgar trotted laughing alongside. But in the end, hand in hand, the three of us skipped that entire street, tied to each other in our innocence, and our lack of innocence at one and the same time. Such moments - when you care, and hope, and doubt and know in some complicated mix that I don’t begin to understand - are treasures. And no one and nothing can ever take them away from any of us. I didn’t know then - when everything was future - that they come very few and far between, and, for many, many people, not even, not ever once.
Gary was a biblical man who lived the Judaic and Christian teachings of love and justice and of service to the poor.
Love is a mystery for me. Difficult to understand and to live. Small lessons help. Gary taught me one that I think of often. Years ago when I was ill a note from Gary ended with “Take care. I love you.” Men seldom say such things. No man had said that to me. I can not explain fully why that struck me and why I have never forgotten it. The reasons are too deep within me. The thoughts were Gary; honest, caring Gary.
Gary was a noble commoner. Noble in the quality of his moral character, ideas and accomplishments. A commoner in his relations with people. Gary wore no ermine. He despised affectation. He cared for you. You knew it. He listened.
Gary was a mortal being and is an immortal presence. Mortal Gary made mistakes, acknowledged errors and changed his views. Gary is immortal in our memory, immortal in the lessons we learned from him, immortal in the poor whose lives he bettered.
Gary was a profound and a simple man. Gary explored and understood the intellectual depths of life and of people. Gary’s actions were simple. Listen carefully to the client, understand the problem profoundly, file a simple pleading, argue a strong case. Be steadfast, persist, do not compromise, triumph.
William Lloyd Garrison wrote: “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.” Gary could have said that. It was his life.
Gary was a good and true man. He was a mentor for me for 35 years. At every turn in my life as a lawyer Gary was around the corner to help me. I loved him - and never told him.
Thank God for Gary’s life. Memorialize it, celebrate it, in your
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