From birth to the bench: a quiet but persuasive leader.

AuthorReid, Inez Smith
PositionNew York Court of Appeals judge George Bundy-Smith - Testimonial

Throughout life, even in his early days, Judge George Bundy Smith has been a quiet but persuasive leader. I make this sweeping statement because I can say, without fear of contradiction, that I have known him longer than anyone else. We shared space in the womb. He proved to be a budding gentleman and a leader early on by rolling aside and instructing me to taste the world's air first. I waited anxiously for his arrival which came ten minutes later. Our older brother, Sidney Randall Dickerson Smith, Jr. quickly assumed an instructive role and did not intend to play "second fiddle" to the twins, but George had a mind of his own.

The seeds of quiet but persuasive leadership were embedded in George as we grew up in Washington, D.C. where we were not welcomed by--indeed we were excluded from--certain restaurants, movie houses, theatres, even some department stores, as well as from public schools restricted to Caucasians. We were imbued with an understanding of the pivotal force of education and theological precepts to one's continuing growth as a contributing member of our society. Ingrained in us was a notion of fundamental fairness and decency that is not tethered to race, gender or ethnicity; actions of the people, we were taught, should be fundamentally fair and decent and it was our obligation to act accordingly.

George and I went separate ways in high school--he to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and I to Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. I was told that the separation was necessary because I was too dependent on my twin. Admittedly I did not hesitate to wait until he figured out the junior high school homework assignments because that would make life easier for me, but even more than that, I suspect that I had a sixth sense that his task was to lead and mine was to follow. Even though there was a geographical separation in high school, the lessons of early childhood remained a steadfast part of us, and George continued to direct my actions, even from afar.

The lessons of our childhood took on more urgency in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's edict in Brown v. Board of Education. (1) While George and I were college students--at Yale and Tufts respectively--the resistance to public school desegregation in the South increased and spawned ugly and violent behavior. In September 1958, before we returned to college as I recall, we had an experience that resulted, perhaps unconsciously, in a significant message: If laws, tradition and custom render actions of some people fundamentally unfair and indecent, they must be challenged, not in a physically confrontational manner, but in a persistent way that combines intellect and skill with quiet, determined will. That message undoubtedly was delivered as we watched events unfold in Little Rock, Arkansas and in the Supreme...

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