This year the legal profession, the American Bar Association and the Section of Dispute Resolution lost a dear friend and colleague with the passing of Judge Resa Harris who served as the second Section of Dispute Resolution Chair in 1995-96. When Resa arrived the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution was not off to the most auspicious of starts in making the transition from an ABA Standing Committee to a Section. Into a breach of financial and personnel issues stepped a woman of remarkable courage and fortitude, Judge Resa Harris of , N. C.
Resa was born missing a number of ribs and one lung and had had nine back operations by the time she was eleven. Diminutive and possessed of a sweeping walk due to the steel rod in her back from one of the childhood operations, she made her presence felt and unabashedly entered, exited and worked a room with aplomb while draping herself in some fabulous designer clothes. When a high school teen, as her biology class project, she brought in her x-rays to the tenth grade and explained her condition to her classmates. One can only imagine the effect such a feat of courage and leadership had on other students.
When I interviewed for the position of Director of the Section of Dispute Resolution in November of 1995, I was focused on selling myself for the position, but in the back of my mind I wondered whether the interviewer could be my long lost cousin from I had heard about but never met. I put this idea out of my mind for the interview, but fell in love with this person with whom I was discussing the issues facing the Section. After serving as Director for four months, I decided to test my hunch that we could be related and in response to Resa complimenting me on a good idea, I stated, “Well I had to learn something in the smallest public high school in . She inquired as to where that was and I stated Lockhart. This conversation followed:
Resa: “My Mother was born in Lockhart.”
Jack: “What was her Name?”
Resa: “Lavern Childers.”
Jack: “My Grandmother was a Childers.”
Resa: “What was her name?”
Jack: “Her name was Sallie and she had a sister named Minnie, a sister named Maebell and Maebell had a husband named Ming.”
Resa: (In a voice from that could be heard in DC) “Aunt Minnie, Aunt Maebell and Uncle Ming, Oh My God, we are blooooood! You are my second cousin once removed.”
We never skipped a beat in making up for lost time as we became very close as relatives, colleagues and friends. She and her husband James were guests in my and Doug’s mountain cabin years later where she met my sister and we all reminisced about our family characters. James, it turned out, actually grew up in the county where our mountain home is located. When one of our dogs sat on her oxygen tube she traipsed all over our house with, she simply shooed him away and kept holding forth. Coincidences brought us together more than once. I was so lucky to have met her and I loved and respected her greatly.
With a little help from a new found blood relation, Resa proceeded to lead the Section to develop the key activities of a proper functioning ABA section including producing on time the Dispute Resolution Magazine, balancing the Section budget, starting and naming the Section newsletter, creating and supporting committee activities, developing committee databases, growing membership and sponsoring continuing legal education including, in her year as chair, a collaborative conference with the ABA Center on Children and the Law on Mediation and the Child.
Her condition of frequently being out of breath helped give her voice a volume and pitch that indicated urgency and made her laugh unmistakable and infectious. Her approach was always, “you see who I am, now let’s get to work and for the Section of Dispute Resolution, and later for the ABA Board of Governors, she did.
Resa came along at a critical moment when the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution was adrift and struggling to adjust to its new Section status. She provided stability, leadership and positive direction when these things were sorely needed. She brought courage to fuel bold action. The Section has remained strong and vibrant since and for this we owe Judge Resa Harris a very large thank you.