January 7, 2016

My Friends -- Part 4: My Two Lifesavers

I did well in law school. In my third and last year, I became managing editor of the Law Review and was ranked fifth in class standings.

Then in March of that year I was expelled from Cornell law school for conduct I don't remember, since it occurred while I was in an alcoholic blackout. I was told I had broken into the men's dormitory, seeking sex.

When I tell this story, most people say they consider the expulsion an unduly harsh punishment... until I explain that there had been a nearly identical incident the year before. After that first episode, I was put on probation and ordered to work with the university's psychiatrist. I was not open and honest during those sessions with the therapist.

My alcoholism and repressed homosexuality created a volatile mix. And twenty three more years would pass before I finally came to terms with this reality.

I blame myself, not Cornell, for the expulsion. At the time, I was sure that getting kicked out -- so close to graduation -- was THE worst thing that could ever happen to me. As fate would have it, that expulsion turned out to be the best thing for me, all because of these two friends:

In 1946, J. Gormley Miller became the librarian at Cornell's newly established School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR). He became a good friend during the five or six years I worked in the library. Of course, I had to tell him about my expulsion, though I didn't offer up the full details. I think I said my ejection involved an arrest for drunken conduct in the women's dormitory.

Fortunately, Miller knew this man:

John D. Stewart was executive editor at Washington, DC's Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) in 1955. He was one of the founders of BNA as an employee-owned organization in 1946. He was also BNA's president from 1964-1979 and chairman of its board of directors until he retired in 1994.

Gormley called John and explained what he knew about my expulsion. But he also told John about our association during my years working in the library. John was an inveterate gambler who enjoyed the crap tables in Las Vegas. He decided to take a gamble on me, and told Gormley to send me down to DC for an interview.

After that interview, John doubled down on his gamble, and suggested to Howard Anderson -- then managing editor of BNA's Labor Relations Reporter -- that I be hired as a labor law editor. Luckily for me, about one month after getting kicked out of law school, I began a very fulfilling 40-year career at BNA.

A Reflection on Acts of Kindness
Gormley and John in their later lives probably seldom, if ever,r gave much thought to this incident. It was just one of the hundreds of things that you deal with in the course of business. But what they both did for me certainly illustrates how seemingly small acts of kindness can dramatically transform people's lives.

1 comment:

mona said...

It only takes a caring spirit and a willing learner. #heartintherightplace