He was a law student, I was a young lawyer. We had a friend in common who told me, “You should meet this guy and your law firm should hire him.” So I called and invited him for dinner. A year later, Reg came to work for my firm.
His background was different from mine. H grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1960’s. That was a lot different from my New Hampshire childhood a decade earlier. He went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, whose notable graduates included Martin Luther King., Jr. Morehouse is the only all male historically black college in the United States. Oh, I forgot to mention another difference – Reg is black.
We worked together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we played on the firm’s softball team – he at third base (the “hot corner”), me at second. Reg was a natural athlete who – here’s another difference – did make his high school baseball team and played for Morehouse as well. I dreaded a grounder to third with a runner on first, since that meant a throw from Reg to me, something like trying to catch a bullet.
He told me stories of his Alabama childhood. Some were funny, some were frightening. George Wallace was Governor, the notorious “Bull” Connor was in charge of “public safety,” and fear walked the streets. Many whites, even those his age, called him “Boy.” It was not a safe place to be a black teenager.
He also told me about his mother and his grandmother, who raised him in modest circumstances with unlimited love and faith. And he spoke about Benjamin Elijah Mays, the President of Morehouse, who inspired him at weekly chapel to dream and to reach for the stars. Reg did just that and entered Harvard Law School in 1967. He married Cheryl from Massachusetts and remained in Boston, a southerner by birth and a New Englander by choice.
Then, sometime in the late ‘70’s, Reg became ill. The doctors probed and tested, but couldn’t come up with a diagnosis. Was it multiple sclerosis or, even worse, the disease named after the great baseball player, Lou Gehrig? They weren’t sure, and Reg continued to deteriorate physically. This gifted athlete could hardly walk, much less play third base.
In 1983, spine surgery cured Reg’s illness, but at a heavy cost. He left the hospital in a wheelchair and, despite physical therapy and rehabilitation, never regained the ability to walk. Yet, even with this handicap, he returned to our firm, where he had become a partner, and continued his career as a trial lawyer. Then, in the 1990’s, he left the firm for a new job.
Not long ago, Reg received an invitation to return to Alabama, not for a vacation but for work. He accepted, and he did there what he has done for many years in Massachusetts. He presided over trials in the federal courthouse. You see, Reg’s new job, the one for which he left the firm, was a Presidential appointment as a federal judge. This time, in Alabama, they called him “Your Honor.”