Carlton J. Snow (1939-2004)
Bill Long 11/21/04
Reflections on the Loss of a Colleague
For the second time in less than a year, Willamette University College of Law has suffered the sudden loss of a member of its faculty. Carlton Snow was the senior member of our faculty, having taught at WUCL since 1971. Following so quickly after the death of his wife, Sally, Carlton's death not only brings in its wake a wave of grief for those who remain but makes us wonder about the fragility of all of our lives, the quality of our relationships and the ineffable, mysterious connections between loss, love and our will to live.
Meeting Carlton Snow
The first time I heard Carlton speak, when I was a student in his Arbitration class several years ago, I knew at once that there was still goodness in the world. I recognized immediately that Carlton, although being a man of impressive intellect and broad knowledge, spoke and lived from a large and gracious heart. He believed in people. He certainly believed that conflicts happened and that people could do very evil things to each other, but he refused to let the negative things that people do diminish his belief in their inherent dignity and worth.
Carlton grounded his humanistic virtues in a deeply resonant Christian faith. He believed that the language of the Christian faith and the example of Jesus provided him with insight, inspiration and courage to face the thorny and sometimes insoluble conundrums presented by more than 3,000 arbitration cases he oversaw over nearly 30 years. His decisions are a model of clarity and even eloquence.
Carlton believed, like the author of Proverbs, that words fitly spoken are like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Whenever I talked with him I could see him weighing words, as if his choice of words should not only reflect the past he knew of me but the challenges of the present we were addressing. He was, to that extent, a living historian, with words as his instrument of linking past and present, and giving life to both.
The Greatest of All
But as I thought about the legacy of Carlton Snow to the Willamette community, I realized that Carlton was not just respected for his mind, admired for his humanity and honored for his abundant arbitral and pedagogic skills. Carlton was, in a word, beloved. Many teachers aspire to be admired, respected or highly regarded, but Carlton had something in him that seemed to evoke a different emotion from students and colleagues alike: love. It is an emotion not spoken of much at law schools, obsessed as we are with rules of law and processes of adjudication. But, Carlton was truly loved by people. Each year at the public interest law auction, a dinner with Carlton (and his friend Professor Leroy Tornquist) would "sell" for hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Students don't put that kind of money down even for rock stars, but they did it for Carlton. They were more than just inspired by his teaching or welcomed by his manner; they were touched by a man who himself aspired to touch the divine, and they loved him. We loved him.
A Final Conversation
I will never forget my final conversation with Carlton, about a week before his death. I will even be haunted by it. I wanted to give him a copy of my recently released book on the Book of Job, feeling that his experience of loss of his wife might bring insight to his reading of Job. He came to my office and we sat down for a few minutes to talk.
He said that the Book of Job, and Job's loss, had been on his mind since his wife fell ill in April. He felt so intertwined with her, so much a part of her, that when her final release came after a brief but virulent cancer, he felt completely adrift. He then looked directly at me, and I saw a look of mingled sadness, weariness and confusion vying with his gentle humanity, and he said, "Bill, I feel as if I came to work one day and the law school had simply disappeared without a trace, as if all there was at 245 Winter Street was a crater." So cavernous becomes our heart after loss.
The Final Word
He lost the love of his life, Sally, in September. But, after a few weeks break, he returned to the classroom. He collapsed after just finishing an arbitration class on Thursday, November 18, at about 4:45 p.m. Some who were in class commented on his extraordinarily good humor the day of his collapse. In fact, Carlton died teaching. In fact, he died at the law school. He died in full form and insight. He died in the arms of his other beloved, the students and family at Willamette University College of Law. We were and are blessed to have had a man of such temperament, intelligence, skill and humanity grace our lives.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long