Historical Perspectives: Memorial Service

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end. Shakespeare

The origin of the Memorial Service and how it lives on is replete with irony. The ceremony thrives, but its subjects become wisps of fleeting memories and cherished images to friends and loved ones. It annually occurs appropriately near Thanksgiving, and is held in historic Old Courtroom Five.

It began in the fall of 1991, on October 25, in Courtroom Two of the new County Courts Building. Courtroom Two, like most of the courtrooms in the County Courts building is spacious, airless, and emits a tomblike dullness. Courtroom Five is alive with charm, polished mahogany and tall windows which open to the vista of a Towson Home and Gardens tour, which is the courthouse lawn. To gaze out those windows is to experience a horticulturist’s convention with the random explosion of shrubbery. And the windows welcome air and light into a revered Temple of Justice, with its pictures of long deceased judges and barristers who no longer breathe the same air. Although the characters on the walls are silent, at times in BCBA history, the ghosts are rumored to have cast crucial votes.

The initial ceremony memorialized 12 deceased Bar Association members who passed away between January 1, 1990 and July 1, 1991. As reported in the December 1991 issue of The Advocate, this was the first ceremony of this nature, where there was a joint celebration of the lives of all the departed. There had been previous ceremonies for individual members, usually members of some renown. Now all of the BCBA members who had passed in the last year were to be honored at once. The Advocate reports that it “proved to be a very successful and meaningful occasion for all who attended and took part in the actual ceremony.” It lacked only a multi rifle salute. Chairman Glen Lazzaro probably couldn’t get the permits for such fusillade percussion.

The prime participants of that initial memorial service are no longer with us today. Judge Bill Hinkle delivered the invocation. Bill was a gentle, kind, very strong personality. A boxer in his youth, he was deeply religious and gave dozens of invocations over the years at various bar gatherings. Chief Judge Eddie DeWaters presided. Eddie was a long time Chief of the Circuit until his early life passing from the same dreaded carcinoma malady that felled Bill Hinkle. He was appointed to the Bench at a record early age, when he was but 32. Governor Marvin Mandel, still alive and practicing law, appointed him to the District Court and his combined years on the District and Circuit Courts made him an institution in Baltimore County. Very few remember when he was a young prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s office. Judge Eddie introduced Warren “Moose” Mix, the President of the BCBA, and the other members of the Memorial Committee. Warren made brief remarks about all of the departed, in a style that was typically low keyed. Moose had begun his career in Baltimore County as a probation agent, and successfully transitioned into a premier criminal defense attorney.

Other bar members who spoke included the late Dick Reid and Steve Nolan, Myles Freidman, Neil Bloom and Jimmy Smith, all very much alive. Smith, my classmate from Loyola High, was actually Judge Smith at the time, before he became County Executive Smith. On behalf of the Circuit and District Courts, he provided an eloquent and sincere response from the bench, his words reflecting the philosophical depth of our mutual Jesuit educations. He spoke of the fleeting nature of life on the good earth with hope springs eternal. The judges were squeezed in like sardines on the bench, as we sat majestically above our audience of bar members, family and friends. I wanted to climb down and sit with my wife in anonymity. Eddie DeWaters was flanked by Bill and Jimmy and the remainder of the benches spread out as best we could.

The ceremony also included the dedication of the official portraits of deceased Judges John Maguire and James Langrall. Their portraits remain in Courtroom Two. There is simply no more space on the walls of Courtroom Five, although Judge Maguire deserves to be there. He was the force behind the renovation and restoration of this Courtroom. Warren Mix spoke for Maguire’s dedication and Judge Jim Sfekas spoke for that of Judge Jim Langrall. I had hoped to do the Maguire presentation, as his first law clerk, but had no clout as a rookie judge. They are all gone now.

The Advocate reports, “The ceremony was attended by well over one hundred people, and was presided over by the entire Circuit and District Court benches. Overall the ceremony was very successful, highly dignified, and a credit to the Judiciary, the Bar Association and the Memorial Committee.”

There were indeed in excess of one hundred. I cherish an image of departed colleague and friend John Carroll Coolahan grabbing extra chairs for fellow Judges on the crammed dais. Despite the report of perfect judicial attendance, it was not so. Having all the District Court judges arrive from, at that time, five different courthouses for a late afternoon ceremony was not going to happen. To travel from Catonsville to Towson in the mid to late afternoon is still akin to running through stampeding bulls on steroids. And some Circuit Court judges could not extricate themselves from late dockets. In ensuing years, the ceremonies have become more of an institution where attendance has steadily increased for bench and bar. If you come to Old Courtroom Five for the service, and you look around, you will see the faces on the walls giving their silent approval. Even they are moved by the heartfelt, thoughtful and emotional words embracing fallen colleagues. And if needed, their votes can be counted on.