E-mail from Florence Roisman

I cannot remember precisely when I first met Gary, but it must have been in 1967.  I began work at the DC Neighborhood Legal Services Project in February of that year, and attended the Harvard Conference on Law and Poverty that March.  Gary was then the Deputy Director of CRLA, the California Rural Legal Assistance Program.  At the conference, he insisted that what poor clients most wanted, and what legal services lawyers should address, was fundamental change that would produce economic justice.  “If it is too hot an issue to discuss here,” he said, “we are in serious trouble.  If it is too hot an issue for the profession to discuss then we ought to get the hell out of the kitchen.” 1   This was of course a theme that he sounded throughout his life.

Gary had been one of the founders of the legal services movement.  He had closely consulted with Edgar and Jean Camper Cahn, authors of the seminal article, The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective.3   He had been a principal drafter  of the proposal that led to the creation of NLSP in 1964, as a project of the United Planning Organization, the CAP (Community Action Program) agency for the District of Columbia.  After the Office of Legal Services was established in the Office of Economic Opportunity and a National Advisory Committee established, Gary served on the NAC.4

Over the years, I saw Gary at irregular intervals.  I remember a wonderful conversation after Jean Cahn’s funeral, for which he had traveled to Washington, and his generous consultation about a poverty law casebook that Art La France, Marie Failinger, Margaret Farell, and I were drafting.  As Bob Solomon has recalled, Gary gave us wise advice when we were assessing a student-run legal services program at Harvard.  I was at the 1995 Political Lawyering conference and dinner that honored Gary, and I heard him give a powerful, moving speech when he was honored by the Alliance for Justice.  Scattered among those recollections of specific events are warm memories of conversations in hallways, stairwells, airports, and restaurants.   Time after time, when I met young lawyers who were doing creative, important work, I would learn that they had been students of Gary’s.  

Although I did not see Gary often, he was and will continue to be a constant presence in my life -- a model of determination to address fundamental issues of injustice, to bring the highest standards of professional skill to the representation of oppressed people, to focus that representation on “radical extensions of democracy, equality, and racial justice,”5  and to encourage young people to become lawyers who will heed the advice of Gary’s grandmother: “to make what you find better than it was before you came.”

1.  Proceedings of the Harvard Conference on Law and Poverty, March 17-19, 1967, at 17.

2.  See Gary Bellow, Steady Work: A Practitioner’s Reflections on Political Lawyering, 31 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 297 (1996).

3. Edgar and Jean Camper Cahn, The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective, 73 Yale L. J. 1317 (1964).  Earl Johnson wrote that the Cahns drew on Gary’s ideas.  See Earl Johnson, Jr., Justice and Reform: The Formative Years of the OEO Legal Services Program (1974) at 40-41.  In light of the recent death of Abram Chayes, it seems appropriate to note that he and his wife, Antonia Chayes, also consulted in the development of the article.  See Johnson, Justice and Reform, at 40, 42.

Gary’s own summary was brief: “Between 1963 and 1965,” he wrote, “I was part of an ad hoc group of lawyers working at a variety of federal agencies that orchestrated a set of conferences, speeches, alliances, meetings, and intra-agency agreements that led to the establishment of the federal legal services program under the Office of Economic Opportunity.”  Bellow, supra note 2, at 298.

4. See Johnson, supra note 3, at 107.  

5. Bellow, supra note 2, at 300.

6. Bellow, supra note 2, at 309.

Return to Reminiscences List