A friend's portrait of Henry W. Sawyer, III.

Author:Coleman, William T., Jr.
Position:Lawyer
 
FREE EXCERPT

Henry W. Sawyer, III and his wife, Grace, were great art lovers. Does not law, like art, seek to accommodate change within the framework of continuity to bring heresy and heritage into fruitful tension? As Alfred North Whitehead observed:

[A] society maintains its civilization by preserving its symbolic code while giving expression to forces that, repressed, could break a society asunder. And so the basic dilemmas of art and law are, in the end, not dissimilar, and in their resolution--the resolution of passion and pattern, of frenzy and form, of convention and revolt, of order and spontaneity --lies the clue to creativity that will endure.(1) It is daunting to write about Henry, particularly for the Law Review of Henry's law school--a school he revered, and to which he gave so much honor. His classmates, colleagues, and the judges before whom he appeared, received from Henry so much life, inspiration, introspection, direction, and fun, that to think of him no longer here brings tears to our eyes as when the last bars of Wagner's Parsifal fade into silence. Many at the Philadelphia bar could write of Henry with as much knowledge, relish, and relevance as I--in fact, even more.

I have, however, several significant regrets. The prime one, of course, is that Henry no longer is here in person. Young lawyers never again will be in his presence and never will share Henry's elan and intellectual verve. They will be deprived of his path of inspiration to affect the law in its highest function--to make this grand democracy under law work for all in a civilized fashion. Finally, I regret that thinking about Henry reveals a basic defect in the Constitution. His very presence calls into question a clause in article I, section 9--the one providing that "[n]o title of nobility shall be granted by the United States."(2) As Thomas Jefferson once wrote to John Adams: "For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.(3) Some suggest that John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison would have added a third attribute of "natural aristocracy"--courage. They, unlike Jefferson, fought in the Revolutionary War, just as Henry fought for this country in World War II and the Korean War. In any event, perhaps during a more credulous time, Henry W. Sawyer, III would have been confirmed into this rare class of persons.

I truly enjoyed the time spent working through my thoughts about Henry. For it is an absolute, ultimate joy to relive time spent with Henry as a social friend, public figure, jazz expert, and ally or foe--be it in politics or litigation. I think of riding the Chestnut Hill Local, working through legal arguments to present to Thurgood Marshall and Lou Pollak(4) for the Brown v. Board of Education(5) brief. I picture the family man, surrounded by Grace and the children, being guests at each other's homes, drinking, eating, and trying to make sense out of the political process, as well as the practice of law. I remember the strong disagreements--which we had many times--yet always keeping humor, respect, and friendship.

There is special affection for a human being who was--by any 1955 definition--a Philadelphia Swell or Philadelphia Brahmin, yet knew that the A Train winds up in Harlem on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue, and has the courage to enjoy with me the night life in that special part of New York. Or knows--as Henry did by experience--that life and spirit resonate below Pine Street in Philadelphia. Or that Temple University is not the only place in North Philadelphia to learn how high and wide the human spirit can soar aided by jazz, by courage, or by the inspirational preaching of a Leon Sullivan or a Bill Gray, Sr. on a Sunday morning. Or to slip off to a nightclub in Atlantic City when attending the Judicial Conference of the Third Circuit, and have me realize that someone...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP