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Memorial Tribute to Gov. Gerald L. Baliles

Friday, January 31, 2020   (0 Comments)
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This is a transcript of the memorial tribute to VBA Life Member Gerald L. Baliles, given by David Craig Landin at the 130th Annual Meeting banquet:

 

President Garriott, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Longfellow wrote about great men as follows:

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”

Former Gov. Baliles presents the Baliles Distinguished Service Award to former Govs. Wilder and HoltonWe know about our good friend and mentor as an Attorney General and as we have just witnessed in the photo of Governor Baliles presenting an award to Governors Holton and Wilder, themselves unique, he was himself a most unique and meaningful Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And while he dedicated himself to Virginians and their education, the environment and infrastructure, among many other things, he also cast, as part of a long shadow, a dedication to The Virginia Bar Association and to his fellow lawyers as the epitome of the Citizen Lawyer writ large, a thought leader and provoker; a shaper of community debate; a student of all sides of a question in order to bring the broadest perspective to forming an opinion through reason and the most civil discourse.

Some few highlights of our friend’s evolution as a Citizen Lawyer:

On graduation from law school, he joined the Virginia Bar Association in 1968.

A mere three years later, he was part of the leadership of the Young Lawyers Division, representing the Capitol Region.

At that time, he proposed to the leadership of the association the formation of a unique standing committee named the Committee on Special Issues of National and State Importance – a Committee that would be vastly different by providing an open forum from which to explore issues of significant interest to lawyers and other members of the public. In 1974, Governor Baliles moderated the first program of the Special Issues Committee, “Death with Dignity.”

A short ten years later, in 1985, he was instrumental in advocating for and participating as a candidate in the VBA’s first and now traditional opening Gubernatorial election debate against longtime friend, Wyatt Durrette.

And, of course, his friends from his young lawyer times in the VBA, like Hugh Patterson and Jay Walker were at his side during the campaign.

When I became President in 1999, I asked Governor Baliles to become Chair of the Special Issues Committee. He agreed with one condition: that the committee form a partnership with the Virginia Historical Society, of which he was then Chairman of the Board, to offer intriguing and useful insights into historical trends, social and demographic shifts and the evolution of a changing Virginia over four centuries. Our first joint program was in 1999 – “Ten Books that Changed American History.”

Governor Baliles chaired until 2001 and remained on the committee serving as its the heart until 2019 – he is now its Emeritus soul.

In 2002, the association awarded him the Distinguished Service Award (in 2008 renamed in his honor) he said then:

“Over the years, this organization has become a professional home of sorts for me. … I value its mission, its contributions to the improvement of the quality of life for the people we serve. Some of my strongest friendships were formed in this organization. …

“The members of The Virginia Bar Association represent the cream of the crop of our profession. Its members are the thinkers, the doers, the creators of innovative legal solutions. …

“Let us resolve to use our education, our experience and our energy to participate knowledgeably and constructively in the affairs of our community and Commonwealth, seeking to represent our clients and to bring people together, working for practical solutions to challenging problems – and to do so in a way that is reasoned, moderate and responsible. In so doing, we will confirm the potential that the Virginia Bar Association has always signified, in so doing, we will help ensure that the quality of life will be enhanced for those who follow us as citizens, lawyers and members of the human race.”

In January 1994, he attended an invitation-only conference. At the conclusion, as “Parting Shots,” each attendee was randomly assigned a topic, which each then presented after two hours of deliberation. The Governor’s topic and thoughts:

If These Were My Last Words

Former Gov. Baliles as a 2012 panelist on a VBA discussion of the Virginia Constitution at age 40I would charge those who remain
to remember
that life goes on, and they must go forward,
recalling Jefferson’s admonition that the earth belongs to the living,
that while we should remember our past, and learn from it,
we must not become prisoners of it.

I would charge those who remain
to make the diversity of our nation a source of strength rather than a force for division.

I would charge those who remain
to keep our country always free and restless,
energetic, curious about our physical world and our inner space,
committed to faith and families as well as fun and fortune,
to social development as well as economic progress.

I would urge those who remain
to remember
that the measure of a civilization is its degree of enlightenment,
its commitment to education,
the promotion of the arts,
the treatment of the less fortunate;
its seriousness of purpose
and yet its ability to laugh at its foibles and the ironies of life.

I would urge those who remain
to remember
that we are citizens of a culture as well as a country,
and that there are obligations that go with that status;
and that among those are the promotion of learning,
the preservation of democratic values,
and the protection of our people against violence and discrimination.

I would charge those who remain
to remember
that learning comes more from listening than lecturing,
that there is a difference between discussing and demanding,
between reasoning and reacting.
For life is a license:
to be lived fully and forcefully;
to make a difference in the world of change that has so telescoped time and distance
and blurred the distinction between information and knowledge,
between words and wisdom.

So I would charge those who remain
to embrace change, not fear it;
to take its measure,
determine its direction and understand its dimensions;
for change is constant and often chaotic;
but if it can be harnessed it can be shaped for the good of humanity.

Finally,
I would charge those who remain
to remember
that a civilization must be civilized,
that civility must be cultivated,
for it is the social glue that holds the fabric of our society together.
Kindness counts;
good manners can move mountains.
The power of passion and the forces of energy are always with us
and are necessary elements of ideas and actions,
but it is reason that can guide that passion
and civility that can harness that energy for the public good.

So, if these were my last words,
I would remind those who remain behind
that they still possess the gift of life,
the length of which is not guaranteed;
but then the measure of life is not in its length
but in the length of its shadow.

And if life can be poetry in motion,
then remember the wistful words of Robert Frost
in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
He wrote…
I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

David Craig Landin rings Arkangel Wings Bell for the late Gerald L. Baliles at 130th Annual Meeting banquetI am certain that we have either recently seen or remember the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which starred Jimmy Stewart. At the end of the movie, as Jimmy Stewart is holding his daughter while standing next to their Christmas tree, a bell ornament on the tree tinkles. His daughter says: Teacher says that when a bell rings an angel got his wings. I ring for us all the Arkangel Wings Bell.

Ladies and Gentlemen of The Virginia Bar Association
To our friend and mentor, the Honorable Gerald L. Baliles


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