Barbara Brenner Memorial
May 13, 2013
For me, this is the end of a friendship that began some 35 years ago as an employer-employee relationship. I am here this morning to say goodbye to my dear friend, Barbara Brenner – “BB,” as I sometimes called her; “Babs” if I wanted to get under her skin.
I think it’s quite fair to say that out of perhaps 50 law clerks who have worked for me in my years as a judge, Barbara was by far the sassiest, the one least intimidated by my title, station, or status. She loved to call me “Judgey,” with a twinkle in her eye . . . or “Your Lordship,” with an even bigger twinkle. And when she wanted to get under my skin, she’d call me “Your Honor,” with an inflection that made it sound as if she were swearing.
We assemble here to say goodbye to a woman whose passion for equality, justice, and fairness, and whose determination to pursue them, helped to bring about substantive reforms that changed the way we think about breast cancer. But she started out to be a civil rights lawyer. When she finished her clerkship with me, she went to work for the law firm I had helped start, which she loved to call: “Rosen, Remcho, and HENDERSON.”
After being diagnosed with, and winning her battle with, breast cancer, she decided – as only Barbara could do – to give up her law career to do direct battle with the beast, by becoming the director of Breast Cancer Action. But others will tell that story much better than I.
As I was thinking about what to say today, I remembered that Barbara and I used to write poems to each other. I would like to share two of those with you today. First is a poem that Barbara wrote when she was getting ready to leave her clerkship with me.
“Ode on the Life of a Henderson Clerk”
With love and affection from the author, BB.
2 September 1982
Was just September, a year ago
that to this job I said hello.
I’d met Judge Henderson before
and knew that he would be no bore.
But I didn’t know, and couldn’t guess
that clerking would involve such stress.
To start with you walk in the door
and Ms. Taylor lets you know the score.
You’d better write in English, see
and stamps you need do not come free.
Then Mr. Robinson sets you straight
on how the parties can’t be late.
The calendar’s his thing, you bet.
In his way you best not get.
And after that there’s Wanda Harris
who doesn’t want to be embarrassed.
She only really wants to know
why lawyers’ talk is never slow.
To add a bit more to the tension
there’s yet another strange convention.
You have to share your office space
with someone else who can’t keep pace.
The desk-top mess of Alan G.
seems rarely to have bothered me.
But Jonathan Rowe is another tale –
now the room looks like a fire sale.
On top of all this stress and strife
there’s one more thing to disrupt life.
You expect the Judge to have a quirk.
That is to say, to be a jerk,
to make you work and make you slave,
to make sure that his ass you save.
So quite surprised it renders one
when the Judge in fact is Henderson.
I can say without a nudge
that even if he weren’t a Judge
I wouldn’t mind this paltry pay,
I’d work for the fellow any day.
And now, I share one of my own: one of the last poems I have written. It was to Barbara after she passed the Bar.
[To BB: on becoming a lawyer]
When we Judges all meet in the lunchroom
Quite often we boast of our clerks.
We usually focus on topics like
How hard the dear person works;
Sometimes we’re put in a strain
That makes us become a confessor.
When we can’t compliment our clerk’s brain,
We mention that they’re a smart dresser.
But I’m the proudest Judge yet
From East, West, North and South
For my clerk’s a true triple threat –
Smart Brain, Smart Dresser, Smart Mouth!
After going through all of my correspondence with Barbara over all these years, it suddenly dawned on me that we were really writing love letters! It saddens me deeply to know that this is the last such “letter” I will ever have the joy and privilege of writing.