The D.C. Bar will be closed for the holidays December 24–January 1
 

Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: The Happy Warrior

From Washington Lawyer, January 2012

By Jacob A. Stein

Legal Spectator My grammar school was H.D. Cooke at 17th Street and Mozart Place. Our morning recess was given over to kickball games. On a cold day in March 1932, a big boy pushed a smaller boy aside. Then something happened. Ralph Temple stepped forward and placed himself between the smaller boy and the big bully. When the bully raised his fist, Ralph knocked him down. When the bully got up, his palms were bleeding. We all knew that the bully was no longer a threat.

There is a catch to that story. Ralph Temple was not born until October 1932, so how could he be there at the Cooke playground in March? Let’s just say, if he were there, he would have done just what I described.

After Ralph’s death in August of this year, John Karr and I talked about Ralph’s unique determination to rescue those who need help. Some of the time it can be dangerous.

John has been in and out of courts for many years. In that time, he has seen the best and worst and everybody in between. John and Ralph were really good friends. He saw that quality in Ralph. John said it is something that cannot be learned. It is unique. In fact, very few of us are born with it.

John and I were trying to find a colorful word to describe it. What about the word infracaninophile, the friend of the underdog. When the bully steps forward, the infracaninophile meets him halfway.

Ralph was born in England and eventually arrived in the United States carrying his pleasant English accent. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1956. Thereafter, he worked with Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund from 1956 to 1957, when he joined the Army.

He then taught at Harvard, George Washington, and Howard universities before joining a big law firm. While he was at the firm, he found a way to connect with the newly enacted 1964 Civil Rights Act. He soon found that this was his calling in the law, civil rights and civil liberty. The infracaninophile.

He left the big firm and became legal director of the National Capital Area American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He served there from 1966 to 1980. He was in many of the big controversial cases that were litigated. He always conducted himself in an ethical manner under demanding contentious settings.

When he left Washington, he moved to Oregon and connected with those who were in ACLU work.

In lunches he and I had in the past four years, Ralph said things were pretty quiet in Oregon. He said there remained in him a few more contests, even if limited to arguing with the dry cleaner for not taking the stain out of his necktie. The owner had promised that it could be done, but it was still there. “Now, please. I know you can do it. I will pick it up next week. You can do it. Believe me, you can.”

Ralph’s son, Johnny, put together a memoir of his dad’s reflections about justice, the courts, the people he knew, and comments of a very personal nature. He titled it Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

He records that in 2009 Ralph was told that he must have surgery, serious surgery, and there was a risk of death. Here is an interesting reflection:

[A] significant aspect of contemplating major surgery is how to manage your mind, how to live through the experience—or, as my wife put it: “What am I called upon to do?” I believe all would agree that the best thing to do is to live the time before the surgery as happily as one can—which includes making your loved ones, friends, and others as happy with your situation as possible.

He added he made the mistake of asking the doctor to describe the surgery. It was not helpful to have those details in mind.

He goes on to say that when real serious matters confront you, it is a good thing to create within yourself two people. “The key is to change it from a conversation between you and you to a conversation between you and an ‘other,’ some conceived source smarter than you.”

William Wordsworth and Ralph have an understanding. What follows proves it:

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
What every man in arms should wish to be?
–It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;

Whose powers shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw:
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need …

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.