E-mail from David Wilkins


This is too much to bear!  Gary Bellow was, quite simply, one of the
finest human beings I have ever met.  His record of service to the needs of
the poor and the forgotten is second to none. 

You (Charles Ogletree) mention his outstanding accomplishments as a public defender in D.C. and his work at the Legal Services Center here at Harvard.  We should also not forget that Gary founded the California Rural Legal Assistance program, the first program of its kind to bring legal services to migrant farm workers. 

As remarkable as all of the achievements are, however, what I will remember most about Gary is his incredible willingness and ability to grow and to challenge himself and those around him to rethink old ideas and come up with new solutions. 

In the 1970s, he risked alienating all of his traditional supporters by
writing an article called "Turning Solutions into Problems" that challenged
the legal services world to rethink its approach to delivering services.  A
few years later, he wrote The Lawyering Process case book that translated
Hart and Sacks' legal process theories into the legal services context to
produce rich and important insights about lawyering.  A few years later,
wrote two case studies about his own experiences as a lawyer -- Rita's case
and California Legal Assistance -- for Phil Heymann and Lance Liebman's
book on the social responsibility of lawyers.  Both case studies were
designed to raise questions about actions that Gary had taken as a lawyer
so that the next generation of public interest lawyers might learn from his
experience. 

What courage!  The same courage he displayed in countless
faculty meetings in which he challenged all of us to live up to our
professed commitment to faculty democracy -- even when it meant that he was
on the loosing side.  Gary never stopped growing, never stopped reaching
out to new ideas and perspectives.  I was always surprised when Gary would
come up to me and tell me that he had read some article I had recently
published on corporate law firms and tell me that it provoked him to think
about legal services practice in new ways.  It didn't take long for me to
realize that it was I who was learning to think in new ways as a result of
our many conversations. 

This year, we were finally going to put our heads together with Jean, Phil Heymann and a number of other interested faculty members to produce a white paper on the future of legal services delivery to poor and middle income individuals.  In typical fashion, Gary was bursting with ideas about pre-paid legal services, the internet, non-lawyer practice and a whole host of ways to link the poor and middle class -- something Gary always believed had to be done -- in a common effort to ensure that America makes at least a minimal commitment to the promise of "equal justice under law." 

It breaks my heart to know that we will have to continue this struggle without Gary's towering presence.  But continue we must, for this is Gary's true legacy.  Whether it was ensuring that indigent defendants in Washington, D.C. were accorded due process of law, providing aid to the United Farm Workers despite Regan's attempts to crush the Union by denying them legal assistance, pioneering a new approach to clinical legal education, holding the Harvard faculty to its democratic principles, or living every day to the fullest in the face of almost unimaginable conditions in the last years of his life, Gary Bellow never, ever stopped fighting. 

Without a trace of self-satisfaction for his many accomplishments or self-pity for his many burdens, he kept pushing the rock of justice inch by inch up the hill that poverty and racism and hypocrisy have placed in the path of far too many people's hopes and dreams.  It is time for those he left behind to put our shoulders to the task.

                                                                                       David Wilkins 
 
 

 

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