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BILL: The Mid-Western Years (by Terry Hallliday)

13 Dec 2019 11:50 | Susana Arrese (Administrator)

Bill swept into the American Bar Foundation (ABF) as Director in 1986 and things were never the same again. Decisive, forward-looking, gregarious, smart, adventurous, sociable, mischievous - Bill has it all and the ABF got his all in full measure.

The ABF was at a decisive moment. Jack Heinz, the outgoing director, had commissioned an external review that declared the institution needed a sharp turn if it were to become a world class research center. Yet, at the very moment when resources were critical a Supreme Court case led to a radical drop in funding at the ABF. Undaunted, Bill treated this as an opportunity. This former US navy officer began to clear the decks, an unenviable task that had to be done if the ABF were to survive and thrive.

Bill had a terrific nose for first-class sociolegal scholarship, being a first-class scholar himself. He loved Oxford and immensely admired Wolfson’s Centre for Sociolegal Studies. He determined the ABF would set its sights on similar glory.

Bill being Bill of course required that a new vision for the ABF required travel—a fact-finding mission that took his polyglot stellar wife, Gray, and me to London, Oxford and Paris, somehow involved the Orient Express, and took us via Vienna and Bucharest eventually to Sofia, Bulgaria. Maybe this was Bill’s maiden voyage with the Research Committee on the Sociology of Law and the Working Group On the Legal Profession.

Bill’s enthusiasm was contagious and it spread fast at the ABF. Ever sociable, Bill would walk the hallways at lunchtime, dragging us out of our offices to enjoy community meals together.

His sense of mischief and great humor seeded ABF events where he shamelessly dressed in outrageous costumes, found any excuse for a party, and cooked up fun schemes with complicit grad students.

Broken fingers. Yes, we can blame Bill for those too. He decided ABFers should play softball weekly during the summer in a park just across the road from our offices. The softball was surprisingly hard and about the size, it seemed, of a soccer ball. Funnily enough it turned out quite a few of us were competitive. Injuries followed, but the game went on.

Bill, educated in America’s most elite institutions, has a splendid egalitarian impulse. He decided the ABF needed doctoral students to inject their creative energy into the place. He took grad students seriously as intellectuals. He didn’t play normal status hierarchies. Bright ideas, first-rate research was what mattered from whomever it originated.

I loved our walks and talks. The ABF overlooks Lake Michigan and Bill and I discovered we could have a delightful midday walk along the shore to a small lighthouse. I soon learnt that Bill was open to any idea under the sun and if he liked it he would move with blinding speed to make it happen.

Innovations blossomed under Bill’s leadership. The ABF Research Journal  published by the ABF became Law and Social Inquiry published by the University of Chicago Press. A predoctoral program brought the best and brightest future sociolegal scholars to the ABF. Bill had a vision for minority undergrads and he instituted a diversity program for promising students, a program that endures with great success to this day.

Bill had a global sensibility before it was fashionable. India, the headwaters of the Euphrates River, the high seas, Bill had lived there or passed by or wanted to pass by. This true cosmopolitan invested the ABF heavily in the first joint international conference of the LSA and RCSL in Amsterdam.

Bill and travel. I once asked him what was the secret that somehow had him doing good works and fine research in all sorts of appealing foreign places. His superb advice: first, think of places you want to go, then, figure out a project that gets you there! I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps ever since.

His notion of exotic spots was a bit warped though. For me it would have Involved beaches and exotic food or at least elegant charm, Aix-en-Provence, for example. For Bill no place was more wonderful than Peyresq. I still recall his great triumph at finding this once deserted, now rebuilt village, in about as remote a place as it’s possible to be in the mountains of France.

And speaking of travel, later in his time at the ABF Bill noticed that I spent a lot of time at an unknown place called Onati. It had it all—hiking, great food, wonderful people, unique language, young scholars. For Bill Onati became his great new adventure. Now the ABF had been propelled into hyper-Bill-speed, the Basque Country awaited. And the rest, as Johannes tells us, is history!

Congratulations to Bill on his 90th from his many Mid-Western friends, past and present!



Terry Halliday


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