A Class Act
The impressive memorial service for Carrie Witt was held at Trinity Church on the Green on Saturday, January 12, 2013. And it really was impressive. An Episcopal High Mass with a sonorous organ, classic hymns, moving remembrances and, unlike many such services, presided over by a clergyman who actually knew the deceased. All the speakers shared a common appreciation of Carrie’s high-energy pleasantness, commitment and class, and each related experiences with Carrie that were examples of those qualities. It was a class event. Carrie would have approved.
For many of us, and certainly for those who had served as president, officers or in some other capacity or in the NHCBA, Carrie was the heart and soul of the organization. Many recognize, as did she, that times are changing. Membership, though impressive when compared that of other bar associations, is declining. It’s hard, now, to convince a solo from Wallingford or Guilford why it’s worth joining any more. What does NHCBA offer that makes it worth it? That is the question which Carrie dedicated herself to answering.
Carrie had been in other practice environments. She’d been a paralegal in Washington in the Iran-Contra Investigation and, later, a paralegal on another big case in New York where the documents were so voluminous they were off-sited to a pier on the Hudson. When she came to New Haven she recognized and appreciated the difference in our style of practice. And now, as we look back at what she did, we can see how she tried to keep alive what makes how we practice so much better than other places.
Carrie recognized that the more opportunities for lawyers to come together and to interact, the more it enhances the atmosphere and tone of our practices. Interaction leads to communication and communication minimizes animosity and conflict. Older lawyers talk about the days of yore when you’d have to go to court each day to answer calendar calls. Of attending meaningful short calendar sessions where lawyers, now institutions, like Joe Delaney, Jack Flanagan, Howard Jacobs, William Fox Geenty and others, would show up and argue “the law”. And from what they did, other lawyers would learn not just law but a style of practice. And from these interactions lawyers would get to know each other, face to face. It’s easier to toss invectives at and to bluster and attempt to bully an adversary who you only know through letters, emails or curt phone calls and never see in person. Personal interaction, knowing each other, is the lubricant that inhibits that kind of conduct.
Carrie’s solution was to create and generate circumstances where that interaction could occur, both social and educational. She pushed and promoted events, reaching out to get increasing numbers of lawyers involved. There were the Bench-Bar receptions, Holiday Parties, winter softball games and charitable projects like clothing and food drives. She organized seminars with folks knowledgeable about particular subjects encouraging them to share their expertise. She scheduled lunches with judges so we could get to know the people who presided over our cases. She appreciated and maintained this publication which, despite an unpredictable schedule, a quirky editor and occasionally bloviating columnists, disseminated news and observations which were sometimes wry, occasionally informative and often interesting.
And above all, Carrie was dogged in preserving the two NHCBA institutions of consummate importance to our New Haven practice: the Memorial Service and the Annual Dinner. The Memorial Service, created and organized by Dick Jacobs, himself an institution, is important because it maintains our history by recognizing those who have made it. And the Annual Dinner does the same by bringing us together to bestow the Yale Sappern Civility Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Liberty Bell Award. Attendance at both, much of it through her efforts, is mandatory for any self-respecting New Haven County lawyer.
Carrie was effervescent, always upbeat, always positive. She was prim. She was proper. She excelled at the social niceties. She appreciated “style”. But what she did for NHCBA was more than serving petit-fours at ever-so-nice tea parties and social get-togethers. Her contributions had substance. Carrie understood that by doing what she did she helped lawyers maintain the New Haven style of lawyering, s style based on candor, trust and, despite occasional lapses, more than a little courtesy and watching out for others.
Thank you, Carrie.