President's Column: Thankful for You!
Christina Melton Crain
At the mere age of 33, Thomas Jefferson was called upon by his contemporaries to pen the Declaration of Independence—the document that would put colonists at odds with the Crown and lay the groundwork for the great American experiment. What could have possibly prepared and empowered Jefferson for such a task at such a relatively young age? Some credit might be attributed to George Wythe.
History gives George Wythe credit for many accomplishments. He is known to be the nation’s first law professor, serving at the College of William and Mary for 10 years. Additionally, he held positions as a judge, Virginia’s attorney general, the mayor of Williamsburg, a drafter of the Constitution, and a delegate who signed the Declaration of Independence.
But Wythe may be best known as the man who mentored giants including Jefferson, James Monroe, Henry Clay and Chief Justice John Marshall.
From the time Jefferson was 19 until the age of 24, he studied law under Wythe, who was about 16 years older than his pupil. Jefferson called him “my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life.” Their friendship lasted four decades.
We are told that Wythe accepted law students as boarders in his home and treated them as if they were the sons that he never had.
Years after the death of his mentor, Jefferson said of Wythe: “He directed my studies in the law, led me into business, and continued, until death, my most affectionate friend … as far as I know, he never had an enemy.”
Mentorships were not uncommon in Colonial days. The Fairfaxes of Virginia and Robert Dinwiddie offered sage advice and unique opportunities to a young man who was left fatherless at the age of 11. This youngster did not benefit from the elite education that his older brothers received because of their father’s early demise. Yet, the guidance of key mentors surely empowered this young man to develop his trade as a surveyor, lead the Continental Army to victory, and eventually become the first president of a young republic. Undoubtedly, these influential mentors in the life of Gen. George Washington contributed to his successful life and reputation as a fair and capable leader.
Clearly, some of the most notable figures in history realized the value of mentors.
Over the years, the Dallas Bar Association has created phenomenal mentoring programs for school children, law students and new lawyers. But during 2009, we stepped up those efforts. And, I truly mean “we.” So many of you answered the challenge I issued many months ago to “mentor the next generation.”
I cite several great examples:
Nearly 200 of you volunteered to participate in a year-long program and offer guidance to new lawyers as they “transitioned to law practice.” This initiative has been spearheaded by the Hon. Douglas S. Lang and Laura Benitez Geisler. Now the program has gone statewide through the State Bar of Texas, now led by our neighbor and friend Roland Johnson, to benefit thousands of recent law school graduates.
One of the DBA’s new programs, one that is particularly special to me, is the Amachi Texas program. Having chaired the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for many years, witnessing firsthand the misfortune faced by thousands of children whose parents are incarcerated, a team developed a mentoring program that interjects a caring adult into the lives of these children. Scores of DBA members embraced the Amachi project in 2009. Busy lawyers and judges carved out a few hours each month to change the predictable and daunting odds these youngsters face, to show them that their life’s path doesn’t have to lead to prison. I salute Harriet E. Miers and Rob Roby (Amachi Co-Chairs), as well as Katie Bandy, Jenna Wright, the Hon. Tena Callahan and the Hon. Martin Hoffman, who have each spent countless hours coordinating this project and recruiting volunteers. And, I thank our friends at Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, specifically Lauren Hoofnagle, Olivia Eudaly and Charles Pierson, whose partnership has been invaluable.
Other elements of our 2009 mentoring challenge include the incredibly successful E-Mentoring, Esq. program, Co-Chaired this year by Everett New and Stephanie Zaleskin. This program touched the lives of hundreds of high school students, giving them encouragement to achieve their dreams and not be deterred.
And, the Juvenile Justice Tutoring program which gave DBA members the opportunity to tutor juvenile delinquents has been successfully led by David Indorf, Paula Miller and the Hon. Cheryl Lee Shannon.
The Chairs or Co-Chairs of the 34 DBA Committees, 28 Sections and DBA special projects have all contributed to improving the community in which we live and the profession in which we practice. They are each to be commended for their amazing work this year.
My sincere thanks go to each and every Chair, Co-Chair and member that stepped up to make the 2009 DBA year a true success. Your hard work and tenacity is what makes this Association the “Best Bar Association in the United States” (as has been stated on many an occasion by DBA Past President Nancy Thomas).
In addition, I would be remiss if I did not thank the phenomenal DBA Board of Directors, as well as the staff members of the DBA, DBF, Lawyer Referral Service, Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and Culinaire International for all that they do for our Association on a daily basis.
The gratitude I feel for those who accepted the challenge to lead this year is overwhelming. And, I sincerely thank the many members who executed the plans of these leaders by actively serving on a DBA committee, section or being involved in a special project this year. Through your remarkable efforts, you have changed lives and have made an impact and a difference for more people than you will ever know. You all make me proud to be a lawyer and to work with the finest professionals around. It has been my distinct honor and privilege to serve as your President – a year I will never forget and will always cherish and hold dear.
As Thomas Jefferson stated, “I had the good fortune to become acquainted very early with some characters of high standing, and to feel the incessant wish that I could ever become what they were. Under temptations and difficulties, I would ask myself what would Dr. Small, Mr. Wythe, Peyton Randolph, do in this situation?” This is how Jefferson viewed the roles of his life’s mentors.
YOU are each “characters of very high standing” with whom others have had and will continue to have “the good fortune of becoming acquainted”. You stepped up to the proverbial plate this year to positively influence the lives of students, new lawyers, our profession and community. I offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you for serving this year, and I challenge all of you to find your place on a DBA committee, section or project in 2010.
Remember—a future president may be watching YOU and YOU could be the one person that influences and makes a difference in their life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.