Past Chairs of IRR Remember Father Drinan

From its birth, our Section of Individual Rights was graced by Father Bob’s steadfast devotion and unremitting labor on behalf of human worth and dignity.

In Father Bob, compassion, faith, commitment and understanding blended to create an icon for our Section and for lovers of humanity everywhere. Deep is our loss. Green is our memory. Unending is our thanks.

Jerry Shestack, Chair, 1969-70


A man who believed in and promoted civil and individual rights protected by laws yet who yielded and chose not to exercise some rights personal to him in light of his perception of higher authority.

Charles W. Joiner, Chair, 1976-77


The first time I met Bob Drinan was when I went to the Hill as the Chair of the SCLAID with my cousin Congressman Joel Pritchard -- a VERY PROGRESSIVE Republican -- to testify in support of the LSC on behalf of the ABA. Joel introduced me to the Committee in public sessions and told them some very nice things about me but pointed out that I was a Democrat and lived in his District. Afterwards he took me to see the members of the Committee to introduce me personally. Father Drinan took the occasion to urge me to run against my cousin in the next general election. He said with the same last name I would confuse the electorate and would have a good change of winning. Cousin Joel roared with laughter and said “Bob you can sure tell that you are a Jesuit.” Since that day almost three decades ago, Joel retired and sadly died and Bob always continued to urge me to run for Congress in Cousin Joel’s old district -- OF COURSE AS A DEMOCRAT!

Llew Pritchard, Chair, 1978-79


I do not know when my friendship with Bob Drinan started. It seems that it was always there.

One year at the ALSA meeting, Bob asked me how the sale of my first book was going. I said it was going well and asked him if he would be interested in doing an Introduction for my second book. He immediately said he thought he could find a few kind words to say and agreed.

Shortly after that discussion, I sent him a transcript of the book and within a week he sent back an Introduction and an accompanying letter. The accompanying letter dealt with matters not in the Introduction and made it clear that he read the entire book. All this completed within seven days – simply amazing. Simply an amazing person.

Peter F. Langrock, Chair, 1980-81


I have so many memories of Father Drinan, but two are especially vivid. I think he liked women. I know he supported the full integration of women into the legal profession. He lobbied for years to change the name of Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section to the Section on Women in the Profession.

My second memory is more personal. Each year on the anniversary of my sister Delight’s death, he would send me a note just to let me know that he said a mass for her. Thoughtfulness and caring came naturally to this great man.

Martha Barnett, Chair, 1983-84


I first met Father Drinan when he was Dean of Boston College School of Law. While I was with him only about 15 minutes, I was overwhelmed and thought, “What an amazing man!” Since that time I’ve had an opportunity to see first hand his passion, intellect and vision.

But beyond these attributes was a man who cared about people. I still have the letter he wrote to me years ago when my mother died. It is a beautiful, comforting letter. I couldn’t believe then, or now, that a person on the national and international stage, who spent time writing books, making speeches, lending his enormous persona to so many causes on the human rights front, could have taken the time to write that letter to me. But that was the essence of Bob Drinan—he cared deeply about people.

David Ellwanger, Chair, 1984-85


It was at one of the many Council meetings that Bob distributed copies of his latest book. My response: “Bob, how do you do it? Full time priest; full-time faculty member; ABA activist; involvement in many other liberal organizations -- how do you do it?” His answer, with that wonderful Drinan smile: “Celibacy!”

We’ve lost one of the best of our leaders.

Sara-Ann Determan, Chair, 1986-87


Like so many others, I recall Bob Drinan with equal parts admiration and affection. What often surprised people was not his wisdom or rectitude, but his sense of humor. At one IRR Council meeting, an excited colleague cried out, “God dammit, we NEED to file an amicus in this case,” and then looked at Bob and winced in embarrassment. Bob said, “Bless you, my son” and everyone cracked up. Another time, Bob and I arrived at the hotel reception desk at the same time. Despite his clerical garb, I said, “Hi Bob” and cuffed him on the shoulder. The hotel clerk -- a Ms. O’Conner -- looked at me as if I had committed a mortal sin. Ever compassionate, Bob told her, “It’s okay, we’re brothers.” Bright, warm, wise and funny, Bob was a whole human being.

Clifford D. Stromberg, Chair, 1988-89


The world knew Fr. Drinan as a tireless campaigner for human rights and human dignity as well as a pioneering crusader for legal ethics. Those of us who were fortunate enough to know to know the man behind the legend also saw the warmth and humanity that were among his signal virtues. He softened his crusading zeal with humor and modesty.

Once after another former chair of the Section finished listing his many accomplishments and projects, he was asked in amazement how he had the time and energy to become so deeply and effectively involved in so many important initiatives. This man, who at his core a good priest, replied with a twinkle: “Celibacy makes many things possible!”

Philip Allen Lacovara, Chair, 1991-92


After reading Bob’s Can God and Caesar Co-Exist?, I approached Bob with an idea – a World Forum on Justice, Religion and Conflict Resolution organized by RockRose Institute. He immediately, in Bob-like fashion, signed on as an advisor and insisted that we do it within weeks. It took a little longer; last weekend in San Francisco, over 400 participants from every continent entered into dialogue and left with action initiatives.

At one poignant moment, a South African young black man gave a huge hug to an Afrikaaner and said, “My father could never do this.”

Bob’s spirit lives on as best summed up in a Maori poem recited at the Forum:

“There is but one eye of the needle through which the white black and red threads must pass. After I am gone hold fast to love, to the law and to the faith.”

Rebecca Westerfield, Chair, 1994-95


Much has been said and will be said about Father Drinan’s extraordinary accomplishments and the mark that he leaves on the world. But equally important is the mark he leaves on the lives of many people. His accomplishments were matched by his humanity. He was a mentor and guide for many of us and a man who touched lives by his mere presence. Many years ago, I invited the IRR Section Council to dinner at my house. At some point, I realized that Father Drinan had slipped away from the table. I found him in the front hall teaching my then three year old daughter how to dance an Irish gig. She is now grown but has never forgotten him, nor I the image of the two of them twirling across the room and dissolving into laughter.

Leslie Harris, Chair, 1996-97


Our beloved colleague and friend Robert F. Drinan died on January 28, 2007, at the age of 86. With his passing the American Bar Association, the legal profession and our nation have lost a great leader and an extraordinary human being.

I first met Robert Drinan as a first year law student at Boston College Law School in September 1969, before he left the following spring to serve in Congress. I had no idea when we met that he would be such an influence, such a moral force, and such a friend for the next 38 years, not only in my life, but also, I observed, in the lives of all with whom he came in contact. I feel blessed to have known him.

It was Bob Drinan who urged me to become involved with the Individual Rights Section, and it was he who first urged me in the mid 90’s to stand election as ABA president, an idea that at the time seemed far-fetched. And it was he who encouraged and supported, and guided, me over the years in the causes that I took on, or that he thought I should take on. Fortunately, the two, more often than not, were congruent.

The IRR Section’s Death Penalty Moratorium recommendation adopted in 1997 by the ABA House of Delegates originated with Bob Drinan. If he had had his way, the recommendation would have been to abolish the death penalty. After long discussions, those of us involved in the effort persuaded him that, at that moment in time, with thoughtful advocacy and persuasion, a Moratorium was achievable. He finally and reluctantly agreed, but said he hoped to see the death penalty abolished before he drew his last breath. In his inimitable fashion, he extracted promises that our efforts would continue until abolition is achieved.

The death penalty was just one of many issues of critical importance to Bob Drinan to which he dedicated his intellect and his heart. The list of those issues is long, and includes the alleviation of hunger throughout the world and protection of human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties, and the dignity of all human beings. He addressed these issues, and so many others, throughout his full life and in many capacities – as Jesuit priest, law school professor and Dean, author, Member of Congress, ABA leader, and advocate for human rights – among others.

Bob Drinan was not a typical outstanding legal scholar – he had gravitas, but his personal qualities were warm, caring, fun loving and endearing. He made himself accessible to everyone, had the natural ability to put one at ease – and to see the potential in each person he met.

He will be remembered for the depth of his intellect and for his concern for the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable, and the hopeless.

He will be remembered for the love that flowed from this servant of God to all people and from them back to him.

And he will be remembered for his conviction that the law is an instrument for social justice – a conviction that has guided countless law students, lawyers, colleagues, and ABA and government leaders for more than half a century, and that will continue to guide us for generations to come.

In his eloquent remarks upon receiving the ABA Medal, the Association’s highest honor, he reminded us that Hammurabi, 2000 years before Christ, in the first written code of law, stated that the purpose of the law is to protect the powerless from the powerful.

The purpose of Robert Drinan’s life was to protect the powerless from the powerful.

Michael S. Greco, Chair, 2000-2001


While Father Drinan was known in the larger world for his unstinting advocacy for human rights, both domestically and internationally, I and countless others knew that he was also a caring person who always found time to visit those who were ill, had suffered losses, or were otherwise in need of comfort.

Zona Hostetler, Chair, 2001-02


Father Drinan believed in the nobility of the law, and he embodied it. As a teacher, he inspired his students to aid the powerless and oppressed of every nation and creed. As a leader, he practiced what he preached – defending liberty and pursuing justice with energy, passion, and humor. He was truly an American original.

Mark Agrast, Chair, 2002-03


I was a Marquette law student in 1966 when Milwaukee was trying to deal with school segregation, and was doing it badly. The original solution adopted here was “in-tact bussing,” where African-American children were bussed to white schools but were not allowed to enter the schools or interact with the white children in any way. Instead, these children were taught in trailers.

Outraged by this, many college and law students volunteered their time to teach these African-American children in what became known as “Freedom Schools.” Unfortunately, the dean of Marquette took a dim view of this public service and announce that any law students who skipped classes to teach would be expelled. Within days, Fr. Drinan, the dean of the Boston College of Law, wrote Marquette and announced that any law student expelled for participating in the Freedom Schools would be accepted automatically at Boston College! The letter, on the student lounge bulletin board, was my first introduction to this wonderful man and I have been a devotee ever since.

Joan Kessler, Chair, 2003-04


Bob Drinan was an inspiration for me when I was involved in the anti-war movement in the 1970’s. An elected official who talked about Vietnam not in practical, but in moral terms was quite unique at the time. It was truly a great privilege to work with him when he served on the Commission on the Wartime Relocation & Internment of Civilians during the 1980’s. As I worked to right the wrong inflicted on my family and community during World War II, Bob was the most reliable voice for justice and righting a great American wrong. Both when I served as a civil rights official in the Clinton administration and as a leader of the Section, he has been an advisor and a friend. A prolific writer, he has been urging me to write a book for the last five years. Losing his great moral voice, we should all try to fill the tremendous vacuum that his passing has left.

Paul Igasaki, Chair, 2005-06


Father Drinan’s unflagging commitment to the causes of human rights, civil rights and human dignity is an exemplar for us all. His courageous voice has championed these causes in public and private and it is up to us, to continue this work in the spirit in which he did.

Bob Stein,Chair, 2006-07