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Legally Speaking


Issue: October, 2005
Author: Mary B. Guthrie

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From the Desk of the Executive Director

My grandmother, Laura Isabel Guthrie, died the week after I was born, so I never knew her except through family stories. Because my father, who adored his mother, was a marvelous raconteur, we heard many stories about her.

Grandmother Guthrie was a very interesting, strong woman. She ran a large sheep ranch in northern Wyoming for many years after my grandfather's death. She wore big hats, drove fast cars, read several books a week and always worked crossword puzzles in ink. When my father was an infant, she carried a pistol in his diaper bag, because sheep ranchers were not well loved in some parts of northern Wyoming. She was also very wise.

During the Bar's Annual Meeting several things happened that made me reflect on her approach to life. My grandmother felt that a person's worth should not be based on their station in life. My sister, Judge Nancy Guthrie, of the Ninth Judicial District, and I share a family resemblance and sometimes are mistaken for each other. It is especially interesting to be identified as the judge. A few years ago I was at the U.W. College of Law participating in a moot court. A young woman breathlessly came up to me and said, "Oh, Judge Guthrie, it's so good to see you again." I responded, "Thank you. You have the right family, but the wrong girl." At that point she did an about face and briskly walked off. The message that her behavior sent was that only judges are important enough to be recognized.

At a recent function, Nancy and I exchanged name tags; I became Judge Guthrie and she was cast in the role of the Executive Director of the Bar. It was funny and also a little disconcerting when some people exuberantly greeted me as the judge and just smiled at her and walked on. Nancy has observed that she can't get over how beautiful and brilliant she has become in the 12 years that she has been a judge!

Another piece of advice was that your life will be fuller if you have friends of all different ages. My grandmother liked people and had many friends, including Merrilyn Borthwick, the wife of Wyoming attorney, Dean Borthwick. Merrilyn was about six years old when Grandmother Guthrie died. She told her mother that she wanted to attend the funeral and her mother observed that she was too young. Merrilyn informed her mother that, "Mrs. Guthrie would want me to be there." Needless to say, Merrilyn went to the funeral.

I feel fortunate that I have been able to follow my grandmother=s example. I treasure friendships with senior members of the Bar as well as fresh-faced new admittees. I always enjoy seeing Stan Lowe and Don Sherard, both of whom won leadership awards at the Annual Meeting. They have been involved in the active practice of law for 56 years and still do many good things for their communities and profession. I was touched to see Bill Schwartz from Casper and Bill and Cheryl Schwartz from Jackson enjoying each other's company. It is obvious that they share deep familial and friendship bonds. It was gratifying to meet many new young lawyers, who are filled with a sense of excitement because they are starting their legal careers. I hope that they have the same energy and enthusiasm after they have practiced law for 25 years.

The Wyoming Supreme Court recently conducted a memorial service for Justice Archie McClintock. He agreed with my grandmother on the importance of inter-generational friendships. His former law partner, Jim Fitzgerald acknowledged that Archie enjoyed a wide network of friends and observed that Archie, who lived to be 93, might have outlived his contemporaries, but he certainly didn't outlive his friends.

Another Isabel Guthrie aphorism was that when someone paid you a tribute or compliment, you should graciously thank them, rather than trying to be coy or apologize. Essentially, it was not acceptable to say, "Aw shucks, I'm really not worthy of praise." All of the lawyers who were recognized with leadership awards at the Annual Meeting embodied my grandmother's advice. They graciously thanked the Bar rather than saying that they really didn't deserve the honor.

My grandmother successfully competed in a man's world. My father told great stories about how she dealt with sheep herders. If she felt that an employee was going to give her some trouble, she would go out to one of the corrals in a hat, dress and pearls and place several glass bottles on a fence. She would then do some target practicing. Because she was a excellent shot, the potential troublemaker got the message that he should either cooperate or move on. She would have been delighted to witness the personal and professional accomplishments of many Wyoming women attorneys.

Since I am telling family stories, I would like to close with a great story about my father's reaction to Nancy's passing the bar in 1968. After she learned of the results, she called my parents and excitedly said, "Now I'm a lawyer." My father brusquely remarked, "You're not a lawyer. You merely have a piece of paper that says that you can become a lawyer."

I am sure that most of you have great stories about your grandparents. I would urge you to share them. Also, if you are grandparents, please make your grandchildren the beneficiaries of your experiences. Alex Haley aptly described the grandparent relationship when he observed, "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." Thank you, Isabel Guthrie, for sprinkling some stardust over my life.

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