Bill Long 7/18/05
A Portrait of a Happy Man
I have thought almost as long about whether I should write this as it will take me to compose this page. I debated about whether to write it because Ross isn't as long-standing and as "deep" a friend as others about whom I have written. I don't know his "history" as well as I do others. In addition, he has not just achieved a milestone that will draw the world's gaze. But I ran into him this morning, and he exudes such a happy and contented spirit that I didn't want it to pass without mentioning it.
If I were to guess, I would say Ross is about 66-years old. He is a native Northwesterner, a mid-1960s graduate of UW law school. He did a stint at the Oregon Attorney General's office after graduation and then taught at Willamette University College of Law for 30 years until his "retirement" in 1999. Since that time he has been running "Lawmemo.com," which bills itself as "First in Employment Law." I have no reason to believe any differently.
Ross cut his teeth on labor law, which was THE big field dealing with all issues of employment in the 1960s. In those days the unions were something, and the negotiations between labor and management set the tone for employment relationships generally in the US. There was lots at stake in labor law, and Ross learned all the things that were at stake.
When I first met Ross in 1997, as a student in his "Employment Discrimination" class, I realized how much American life, and the field of labor law, had changed in those 30 years. Unions were not so much of a force in American life; indeed, the rhetoric of the hard right was that unions were actually debilitating influences in American life. That rhetoric really has won the day in 2005, and the unions have been pretty powerless in launching a counterattack. The collapse of unions and the Presbyterian Church are, it seems to me, the two big collapse stories of the late 20th century.
The decline of union strength also led to a corresponding decline of interest in labor law classes. Yet, other classes stepped in, usually driven by the realities of the workplace, the shape of recently-passed federal statutes, and the legal "climate" of America. Mediation classes abounded, as did courses in Employment Discrimination (because of the passage of "Title VII" in 1964) and Employment Law. The field of Employment Law, which an uninformed observer might think was the more "comprehensive" and "foundational" course in the field, is actually the newest course. It only arose because of the collapse of the unions and the realization that the law of private employment had issues galore that needed exploring. Another way to look at the issue is to see that those who "grew up" with labor law are now in their late 60s and 70s; those bitten by the bug of Employment Discrimination law are generally in their 50s and the experts in Employment Law, who grew up with the field, are still in their 40s. This is an oversimplification, but not by much.
The Joyful Ross
Thus, when I met Ross in 1997, he had "morphed" into a teacher of Employment Discrimination law, even though his first love was Labor Law. But he was mighty tired of the seeming inflexibililty and lack of innovation of traditional law schools. He had caught the internet bug much earlier than almost anyone, and realized that this was going to be the source of people's knowledge in the ensuing decades. So, along with student Carl Crowell, he started Willamette Law Online in 1997 or 1998, which provided the first online summaries of cases, arranged by jurisdiction and sometimes by subject matter, to subscribers.
It was during this time that Ross saw that he really wanted to be his own boss, and to spend all his time getting out the word on all aspects of employment law to those far and wide that knew of him or wanted to keep abreast of daily developments in the field. Hence the founding of Lawmemo.com, which provides thrice-weekly summaries of employment law cases from all levels of all jurisdictions in the United States. When a "big case" is handed down, Ross has it summarized and sent out to thousands within hours. He is fully "tuned-in" to the modern communication realities of the Internet.
Finally, His Joy
But that doesn't fully explain his joy. When I met him this morning at the gas station, he was bubbling with enthusiasm. His white mane of hair, matched by a similarly long white beard, bisected by a wide smile, gave his visage an unusually dolichocephalian look, as if a gourd was sliced around the middle by a one-inch high and ten-inch wide cut. His joy flowed from several things. He is now married to Layne (actually they have been married, if memory serves me right, for about 15 years), a former student of his. If professors were not allowed to fall in love with their students in the 1980s, the world would have been much less rich for not having Ross's and Layne's relationship.
And, he is joyful because of their precocious and beautiful daughter, now 11 years-old, whom they will home-school not because of any dissatisfaction with the Salem public schools, and not because they hate Darwin (like the Fundamentalists), but because Layne and Ross want to be the primary ones to pique her curiosity about the world. And, he is joyful because he is leaving for NYC today to see the Lion King on Broadway. How can you keep from smiling when you meet a retired law professor whose eyes light up at the thought of seeing the Lion King?
Reality will return after Ross comes back from NYC. He wants to teach me things about "blogging software." I have been avoiding this for months, but Ross is right. I need to get together with him. But, I think I really want to get together with him because I just like to see a retired professor throw back his head and laugh because he is still entranced by the world of fantasy. Who says that our best days aren't still to come?
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long