Who is ever going to love me like he loved me? Who is going to say to me for no reason, “You need 20 bucks, a hundred bucks, two thousand?” Who is going to put his arm around my shoulder and say ”You know, you’re a good kid. I really admire you.”? Who is going to gaze at my sister Jennifer and then look over to Marciarose and say, ”You cooked “em good.”?
We all know it’s not a tragedy when an old man dies, particularly a man like Jerry who had accomplishments and friendships to last two lifetimes. But it is still very, very sad. But then, I say to myself, “This is how you feel now, but how will you feel later?”. And then the smart part of my brain says, ”If you know how you are going to feel, why not just try feeling that sooner?” So, I know exactly how I will feel. I will feel gratitude. I had a great dad. And so I urge us all to move from sadness to gratitude for having had Jerry in our lives, as quickly as possible.
These past few days have been something of a revelation. Maybe it’s something about my generation, but I admit it: I used to think that last thing my parents did that was interesting was to give birth to me. But it seems pretty certain I was misinformed. So Jennifer and I want to thank the speakers who have gone before and all of the people who have reached out in the past few days for letting us know fifty years of our father better.
Jennifer and I are Jerry’s only children, but there are so many here who, one way or another, think of him as a father. We are so lucky. I realize that all of you are now our brothers and sisters and we thank you for helping us honor him.
I should have mentioned this in the beginning and maybe I did, but this is a speech that will have rough transitions, no segues and the occasional break for poetry. Because my Dad was such a fan of poetry, I thought I’d read a few lines right now.
This is from WHEN I THINK ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE TRULY GREAT by Stephen Spender, lines that remind me of him.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center,
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
“Left the vivid air signed with their honor”….Not too bad at all.
I know that you are here to comfort us, but I want to offer a bit of comfort back. Jerry seemed tough sometimes, sometimes when it wasn’t even his intention. Let me help you recast some of your memories in a rosier light.
To those of you who think he was tough on you…it wasn’t just you. He kicked me out of my own sixth birthday party for poor sportsmanship. I insisted that I should get two turns at Pin The Tail On The Donkey and when I would not let go of this notion, I had to spend some time on the fire escape.
There are those of you who might have felt that he was a tough task master…it wasn’t just you, He ripped up one of my college applications because he thought my signature was sloppy. He had high standards, particularly for those of whom he thought highly.
And maybe some people thought he was aloof or ignored you, but he wasn’t…really. He was just concentrating. If I didn’t shout his name, he was fully capable of walking right past me on Chestnut Street. In fact it was a game I played to see just how close I could get. I got pretty close.
Some things about my father that don’t show up on a resume:
When I had friends over as a kid he was always game to come in and lead pillow fights at two in the morning. And not token pillow fights either, but epic battles that lasted a long time and left feathers everywhere. And could only be resolved by ice cream.
He claimed to know Judo.
There was a big part of him that never stopped being a Hebrew School teacher and an Eagle Scout and a big brother.
He would occasionally, if he saw someone being arrested, get out of the car, identify himself as a lawyer and just stand there, making sure the guy was being treated according to the law.
There is a wall in Marciarose and Jerry’s apartment with pictures of every losing democratic candidate he worked for from Adlai Stevenson through Walter Mondale. We call it the “wall of shame.”
In the days when that was still done, he wooed my mother with dogged persistence. Writing long patient letters as the wise 25 year old to the coltish 17 year old who wasn’t quite ready to settle down. He outflanked her. He might have stalked her. He enrolled her friends by writing their term papers, He enlisted her parents. She didn’t stand a chance.
The only times Jerry ever truly lost patience with me or my sister was if we were unkind to our mother.
Which leads me the second poetry break. This is a poem by ee Cummings. It was in a book Jerry gave me in 1969. I took it with me to Pine Forest summer camp, which likely did not help me build my strong case for manliness. Even then, this poem always reminded me of my parents—and even more so today.
if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
This is my beloved my
(suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow)
This guy really knew his way around a love poem.
These are just some of the things my father loved-in no particular order: justice, my mother, old books, a joke, fairness, yiddishkeit, his children, his grandchildren, French toast made with Challah, art, americana, justice, his friends, the many young people he has mentored and helped, winning, lovingkindness, poetry, my mother.
As he goes, so goes an amazing amount of knowledge, but also such a crazy combination of knowledge: jurisprudence, halachah, poetry from the psalms to the Highwayman, the Congo and the Raven. The ability to buy the perfect size 8 dress, everything ever known about the presidents, their mothers, and their first ladies (with the exception of James Buchanan of Pennsylvania who didn’t have one but everyone knows he was an oddball).
Jerry knew how to conduct a war crimes trail, help someone get into law school, or become president of the ABA. He knew how to take a really good photograph, hang a picture, shoot a basket, buy a great copper pot, deliver good news and bad, and cook matzah brei using every pan in the kitchen. He had a capacity for friendship that was epic. He was one of the last of the old-time married people. The world will continue to go round but somehow, with him gone, gravity is weaker. The pull that keeps us moored together is a bit lighter.
Someone asked me how will I picture him? Well, not so much as he was in the last eight years or so when he was having a harder time. Though please keep in mind that these years also had their attractions, Old friendships were burnished, many new ones were made and during those years he saw the birth of two grandchildren and he stood on the bimah for the bar and bat mitzvahs of three others.
So, how will I picture him? Well it’s not carrying a briefcase, or surrounded by briefs or being hypnotized by an ancient bookcase…but we’re getting closer.
The image I have of him that I like the most is probably 30 years old. It’s quite late, and I’m walking past his open bedroom door and see him standing, naked, in the middle of the bedroom, his hands clasped behind his back, watching Star Trek with fierce concentration. He’s happy. And I’m happy for him.
I suspect that many here today, certainly me, are a little bit stunned. It wasn’t surprising, and it’s not that the death was so big. It’s that suddenly you realize the life was so big.
Something must be done.
So, now, we are looking for ways to keep his memory alive and to honor him. But it’s important to do it through action not reverie—in which case, I want to suggest that there are many unmysterious ways to do this: Try harder. Pick an unpopular cause and fight for it. Find a way this year to extend the benefits of justice and fairness to one more person. Find a young person, invite them for Shabbat, and give them a hand up.
Keep doing all of that. Do it again. This way, when we think of Jerry Shestack, we will be making true the words of Robert Lowell, “In the end there is no end.”
Jerome Shestack, one of Philadelphia’s most important legal figures, died Thursday night.A partner at Schnader, Harrison, Segal and Lewis, Shestack was president of the American Bar Association in the late 1990s. David Smith, a colleague at the firm, delivered this eulogy at the funeral Saturday.
A few hours after Jerry died, there was a spectacular thunderstorm, with lightning flashes that more than equaled the finale of any fireworks display. My wife, Gayle, turned to me and said: “Jerry’s already making waves in heaven.” It was a comforting thought.
We have all seen the obituaries evidencing confusion about Jerry’s age. You can’t blame the press. There has long been confusion about Jerry’s age, even within the Shestack family. For example, it has to be 10 or more years ago that his wife, Marciarose, called me late at night a few weeks before Jerry’s birthday and asked: “Do you remember that birthday party you and Gayle gave Jerry? What year was it and how old did we say he was?”
For the record, Jerry turned 88 this past Feb. 11.
There is a short documentary about Jerry on Youtube that was made in 2008 when Jerry received the Gruber Justice Prize. In the documentary, Jerry quotes John Barrymore: “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”
Jerry was never old. As recently as last Thursday, Jerry was talking about returning to work at Schnader to create a new program to mentor yet another generation of young lawyers.
The pursuit of justice
Jerry identified as the guiding principle of his life the biblical command: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice shall you pursue.
Robert Kennedy observed in a speech in 1966: “The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
That, I think, is a fitting description of Jerry’s long and distinguished career. (Actually, I think Jerry would prefer one of Friday’s headlines: Jerry’s long and “legendary” career.)
The list of Jerry’s efforts to right wrongs is well known and too long to recite here. The list includes:
- Admission of women to Harvard Law School, while still a student there. His pursuit of women’s rights continued throughout his career.
- Admission of Blacks to Louisiana State University Law School, where he taught right after graduating from Harvard Law School.
- Overcoming resistance to United States Supreme Court integration orders through the creation of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and his service as the Lawyers’ Committee’s first executive director while continuing to practice law at the Schnader firm. (The front page of the Lawyers’ Committee web site has been redone to honor Jerry.)
- Focusing the attention of the world on the plight of political prisoners such as Andre Sakharov and Nelson Mandela and the formation of a United Nations working group to investigate disappearances under repressive regimes while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
- His leadership of the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, the International League for Human Rights, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Amnesty International and others.
I have left out the presidency of the American Bar Association and Jerry’s deep involvement in federal judicial selection, his efforts in the world Jewish community, such as his presidency of this synagogue and his stewardship of the Jewish Publication Society, and other secular activities such as the presidency of the American Poetry Society.
Was he really only 88?
A mentor to all
What I really want to discuss today is Jerry as a mentor. That topic is near and dear to my heart, as a long- time beneficiary of Jerry’s mentoring efforts. And I would be willing to bet that a super-majority of those in this room would similarly self-identify as beneficiaries of Jerry’s mentorship. Even more than his many named achievements, Jerry’s passion for mentorship will be his true legacy.
A few years ago, Jerry wrote an article that was published in the Stetson Law Review titled Pursuit of the Good Life in Professionalism. The article might just as well have been titled “The Shestack Guide to Mentorship of Young Lawyers.” In it, he advocates the adoption of personal “standards to which all of us can aspire and which most of us can achieve, if the necessary commitment is made.”
Jerry’s called his first standard the “craft tradition.” He says: “To be happy in our profession requires one to regard lawyering as a profession. … To be sure, comfort, even affluence, is something we all want. But if that is all there is, and all we gain, I believe it ultimately provides very little satisfaction ….”
“Satisfaction in our profession comes from viewing our practice as a calling that elicits ideals, pride, and ethical responsibility; a profession with a craft tradition that shapes our work with balance and precision, hewn to purpose; a profession that values dispassionate analysis and embraces civility and elegance, rejects sloppiness and flaw, employs self-discipline and sets limits, even upon the fierce desire to win.
“A tradition that understands that one apt word or phrase can clarify an issue or avoid a calamity, or convert contention into consensus. A tradition that savors the fine tuning, the feeling of rightness – a tradition that has ideals, pride, nobility, guts and honor.”
Those of us who had the privilege of working with and being mentored by Jerry in the practice of law can attest to many long nights and weekends working side-by-side with Jerry (no one working with Jerry could ever work harder than he worked), mastering the facts, honing arguments, perfecting the logic, shortening sentences, finding just the right words and phrases to present a client’s cause – and the enormous satisfaction that comes from doing that to the best of our abilities.
Jerry’s second standard is called “Being Involved in the Human Struggle” that underlies each of our engagements.
He says: “The melding of human concerns with the law is part of the worthwhileness and joy of our profession.” Jerry was not just a gladiator for his clients’ causes. He was a trusted friend and advisor – as well as a world-class gladiator.
The third standard is “a commitment to justice and the rule of law.”
Jerry explained: “Justice protects liberty and human rights; it advances equality, fairness, and a civil society. Justice is the fundamental end of a democratic society. Lawyers, above all, have the opportunity to make a limping legal structure work for justice, secure an independent judiciary, champion our nation’s liberties and be part of the struggle to advance human worth and dignity.”
Jerry’s mentor Bernie Segal called that “the higher calling of the law.” Jerry lived that higher calling every day of his adult life.
And finally, Jerry’s fourth element is pro bono service.
As Jerry put it: “a life that is not involved in some manner of correcting injustice, by alleviating suffering or aiding the desperate or needy, lacks a crucial element for a fulfilling life.”
Kindness that lingers a lifetime
Jerry’s passion for mentoring went well beyond the legal profession.
It began with his family, where he and Marciarose mentored one another for more than 60 years, each counseling the other and editing one another’s speeches and presentations, and Jonathan and Jennifer, both of whom have found fulfilling careers and rewarding family lives that made Jerry very proud.
It also included an extended family comprised of Jerry’s mentees and their families. I want to conclude with an excerpt of an e-mail my daughter Rachel sent me when I told her Monday night that Jerry would not regain his health. Rachel wanted me to pass it on to Jerry, but this will have to substitute for that. She wrote:
“I’m hoping you can pass on some of what I want to say.
“Jerry made me believe I was magical when I was a kid. Whether it was showing me off at the Seders by having me do portions in Hebrew, or quizzing me at break-fast on Yom Kippur, he was always there to reinforce for me that exercising my mind and investing in my intellect was a constant process, and that those around me would nurture and support me.’
“I will forever be grateful for his “support” during the Friday night service for my bat mitzvah. Sitting in the back, covering his mouth, and chanting my solo loud enough to drown out the shakiness in my own voice, until he was convinced I could handle it on my own. He redefined for me what it means to be Jewish – his pride in my education inspired my own pride.
“I looked forward each year [on Rosh Hashanah] to the moment when he would come by and say he had a seat next to him, and would I like to come sit with him. It wasn’t really Rosh Hashanah until I got to sit with him. He is also the one who modeled for me the difference between dogma and spirituality.
“He is, to some extent, my Rabbi Hillel, and I am forever grateful for the time and attention he lavished on me. ”
Jerry, you will be sorely missed.
Today, we thank God as we remember the life of Jerry Shestack. His life, which blessed so many of us, raises two important questions. How could one person manage to achieve what amounted to several lifetimes worth of great accomplishments? And how could he possibly run so far on the race to greatness and yet never fail to be there when a friend or a colleague needed his guidance or help?
I had the blessing of working closely with Jerry for 25 years at Schnader and Wolf, Block. I doubt that anyone benefited more from Jerry’s teaching and guidance than I did. We formed a deep bond of friendship that passed through many levels, indeed all of the levels of friendship I have know and without a single bad moment. I will try to share what I had the privilege to see and perhaps shed some insights on those two questions.
Jerry had a vision of the practicing lawyer as a force in addressing the problems of injustice in our society. He rejected anything that would detract from (or narrow) that vision of the practicing lawyer. He never allowed the trappings of success or any other obstacle to stand in the way.
He had the brilliance of a first-class law professor, which he surely would have been if he had chosen that path.
Jerry had a clear, compact, elegant writing style, unlike that of any lawyer I have ever seen. His briefs were page-turners, classic works of persuasion.
Jerry had a unique, commanding presence in all forms of oral advocacy and public speaking, whether the audience was a client or a judge who needed to be told what was right and just. He had deep, intuitive knowledge of all of the principles of rhetoric and all of the techniques of advocacy. He knew how to use the perfect phrase or the series of questions leading to only one possible answer to force his listener to the conclusion he urged.
Beyond all of that, Jerry had an enormous work ethic and, for most of his life, unusual strength and endurance, which enabled him to work longer, harder and with greater intensity and productivity than most of us can sustain.
But there was one thing in this unique combination of abilities. He had a special boldness, courage and determination. You see, when you combine brilliance with boldness, and even a kind of desperation to accomplish important and great things, the result is what we call genius. But was the spark for that inspiration and boldness and what sustained all of that energy?
The answer is “Who”, not “What”.
Fortunately for Jerry and fortunately for all of us, Jerry’s race to greatness was also one of the great love stories of our time. Jerry loved to say that, if he had not met Marciarose, he would have searched for her forever. When he found her, they ran the race together. Their love for one another inspired and sustained both of them as they blazed pioneering trails in Journalism and Law, sharing a passion to help build a truly great society. When they achieved greatness, when they could have had it made, they continued to sacrifice, working to include all of us in a life of brilliance, grace and elegance. In a special way, they made all of us and, indeed, our City and our Nation, a part of their love story.
Jerry also had another advantage. He had a deep religious faith that he believed required him to pray, which he did faithfully, and his grandson, Dov, has inherited that special ability to pray. However, Jerry believed he also had a duty to act in accordance with those religious beliefs. He thought it was his duty to live a good life in this world, to do everything in his power to improve the lives of his family and friends, to advance our society, to enhance justice and to protect the dignity and human rights of all of his brothers and sisters. More than any person I have ever known, Jerry had the courage to act boldly, creatively and fearlessly in accordance with his beliefs, of doing exactly what he thought should be done.
What was the result of this unique combination of ability and advantages? David Smith and others have listed Jerry’s accomplishments so well. Al I can do is to drop a few names: Sandra Day O’Conner . . . . Thurgood Marshall . . . . William Brennan . . . . Robert Drinan . . . . Oliver Hill . . . . Jerome J. Shestack. I have just listed the names of six of the lawyers who won the ABA medal during the past 20 years. The Medal, given once a year, recognizes only those lawyers who indisputably have made truly great contributions to the cause of justice. If we go back 35 years to 1941, the winner was George Wharton Pepper. That is the level of greatness we are remembering today. Yes, there are other deserving lawyers who go without recognition, but when your name is placed among that precious few, there can be no doubt of a lawyer’s greatness.
Jerry saw the enduring power of a good example better than anyone. That is why he made it such a point to mentor so many of us and to help any friend or colleague who needed it.
Jerry would challenge us to continue the race. He deliberately chose to surround himself with friends and colleagues who challenged him constantly. He never tried to dominate those he loved. Instead, he relied only on his ability to influence and persuade us.
Jerry would urge us to run the race to the best of our own abilities, in our own circumstances, to act boldly, creatively and with all of our energy. Yes, he would repeat his favorite speech, which David mentioned, and remind us that, if we strive to run as far as we can on the path of goodness, we will find far more joy than pain, and perhaps even come close to greatness.
Some of you may agree with my one sentence definition of a “best friend”, which I gave in a letter I wrote to Jerry 2-0 years ago. It is my only chance to have the last word in a conversations involving Jerry. I told him that, when a friend provides more than the great pleasure of his company, much more than even loyalty and support for one’s family, work, hopes and dreams, when a friend changes his friend for the better in a fundamental and enduring way, then at last we find true meaning in the phrase “best friend”. For me, and I am sure for many of us, Jerry is today, and will always be that best friend.
Joseph C. Crawford
I met Jerry twenty years ago. While a student in the US, I was literally starving when one of my American friends reached out to her father who was important in Washington, DC. The father called me up and said: “There are three lawyers in this country who are crazy enough to deal with the Russians. Jerry Shestack is the first name. If he does not help you out, call me back for the second name”. I never learned the second name.
I went to Schnader Harrison where Jerry was a partner and gave them a passionate speech why their law firm should go into Russia. Jerry gave me a 600 dollar check as a speaking fee and I walked back to 42nd street because I only had a quarter and their check in my pocket and neither one was good for a bus ride.
In the years to come I was fortunate to have Jerry as my mentor. I am now the chairman of a 500-person law firm with offices in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and London. The firm’s motto on our web site reads “Upholding Justice” and you know who had inspired this vision.
Jerry has touched the lives of many like me with kindness, mentorship and support. But there was much more that Jerry had offered all of us: the confidence to stand up for the right thing.
Jerry was a dreamer. They called him a Renaissance Man. But he did more than dreaming. He fought for his ideals and made sure he got the result. There were always skeptics around. But Jerry’s life is vivid evidence that more often than not Good wins over Evil.
Jerry has had an impact on people and events far from Philadelphia. Jerry fought the Evil of communism and stood up for human rights in the Soviet Union. Who would have believed then that the Soviet Communism would be no longer, that Russian people would be free to travel, that Jerry’s friend – a human rights law professor would become the Mayor of my hometown and change that town’s name from Leningrad to St Petersburg!
Jerry once told me that he never lost a case. I have asked how was that possible? He said: “I settle the cases which I cannot win”.
Last week, when Jerry knew he could not win his final case he asked to be moved from hospital to his home to spend the remaining days with family and friends. In the end, Jerry did not lose. He has settled his final case on good terms.
Jerome J. Shestack, August 21, 2011
Honorable Cynthia M. Rufe
To his beloved Marciarose, and Jonathan, Jennifer and your families, to his many friends, relatives and admirers of the man named Jerome Shestack. To those lawyers and judges who, like me, knew Jerry through his long years of service to the law and to the legal profession. Today we remember the man who did so much for so many, a man who honored the fullness of life as well as law, a man who lived and worked with passion and dedication to the noblest of principles, a lawyer whose clients included the wealthy and the poor.
Jerome Shestack worked for four Presidents, starting with John F. Kennedy in 1963 when he served as the first executive director of the “President’s Committee for Civil Rights”. He was a pioneer in the human rights movement, drafting programs for President Jimmy Carter and serving as President of the International League for Human Rights and as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. He continued this important work for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
He founded the Philadelphia Community Legal Services Program which served as the national model, creating the very protocol for pro bono programs, instituting it in his own firm and teaching other law firms around the country to organize their own programs.
In 1969, as Chair of the ABA Section of Individual Rights, he started the first Women’s Committee, the first Native American Committee, and the first Committee on International Human Rights. And when Jerry was elected President of the American Bar Association, he continued to emphasize the need for pro bono legal services, services and equal rights for the mentally and physically disabled, racial and gender diversity, and international human rights. While he was also an author, a lawyer extraordinaire, partner in prestigious law firms, a consummate joke teller, lover of poetry, and devoted family man, it will be his contributions to civil rights, human rights, mental health, racial and gender equality and legal services to the poor that are pivotal to the improvements of our society that are now his legacy.
Jerome Shestack lived his life in the law, and gave it his all, just as Benjamin Cardozo described it to graduating law students in 1925:
“This is no life of cloistered ease to which you dedicate your powers. This is a life that touches your fellow men at every angle of their being, a life that you must live in the crowd, and yet apart form it, man of the world and philosopher by turns.”
Benjamin N. Cardozo, “The Game of Law and its Prices” (speech at Albany Law School commencement, 10 June 1925, in Law and Literature 160, 175 (1931)
Along his busy way, Jerry found time to be a mentor. He made time to guide, promote, educate, and inspire countless young men and women in the law.
Many of his mentees are women who with his support have found the ability and confidence to reach into this profession and live it in some way as Jerry did–with energy, confidence, commitment, excellence and passion. This is a cause that both he and Marciarose shared–one of their many common efforts to improve our world. They have both truly made a difference.
And this passionate advocate of equal rights for all was a great friend to the Judiciary. For many years Jerry served on the American Bar Association Committee on the Judiciary, performing countless evaluations of prospective federal court nominees, such as myself. That is how we met. Jerry may have been, on that occasion, his usual charming and disarming self, complete with the overstuffed brief case and an introductory joke, but he performed the task at hand with a serious sense of purpose. Jerome Shestack, the penultimate attorney, only cared to put competent and fair persons into positions of judicial power.
Jerome Shestack loved the law and he proved that love by using it to improve individual lives, government and society. He spent countless hours, days, years, a lifetime doing the right thing–and in the judicial context, in so doing, he has assisted the Bar, the legal profession, the Bench and our system of justice by maintaining the highest standards for judicial nominees–all to keep the Third Branch of government strong and fair. On behalf of all the judges and the courts that he has touched, in no small way, I thank him.
Fortunately, for the last four years I have had the opportunity to work closely with Jerry. He served as Special Master to the Multi-District Litigation assigned to me. He enjoyed the deepest respect of all counsel and the Court.
Using his skill, experience and intellect, he successfully guided this large MDL through years of litigation. In his honor, a Memoriam Order is to be filed into the Record to commemorate his contributions as Special Master, a role that he performed in an exemplary manner. We mourn his loss.
Jerome Shestack, the author and Thomas Jefferson enthusiast, quoted John
W. Davis addressing the Virginia State Bar Association in 1926:
“In the heart of every lawyer worthy of the name there burns a deep ambition so to bear himself that the profession may be stronger by reason of his passage through its ranks and that he may leave the law itself a better instrument of human justice than he found it. To many a man fate denies the opportunity to realize this desire, but it came to Jefferson in fullest measure. He grasped it with furious energy.”
Jerome J. Shestack, Thomas Jefferson: Lawyer, 1998
With this Jeffersonian spirit, Jerry grasped the opportunity. Jerry’s energy for law and justice was passionate; it was palpable; it excited those around him and inspired all to do better. Jerome S. Shestack, Esquire has left the law a better instrument of human justice than he found it. This is his legacy. For my husband, Honorable John Rufe, myself, and countless other men and women in the law, we will continue to love and admire you, Jerry, but we will miss your spirit so very much.
Justice, Supreme Court of Canada
I met Jerry Shestack 25 years ago when we were both speaking at a conference on Human Rights in Banff, Alberta. After my speech, he came up to me and told me how surprised he was that a Canadian could give a decent speech on human rights. Then he told me I’d love his wife, Marciarose, who was a beautiful and famous journalist in Philadelphia. And then he told me a joke. I realized that I had just met a candid, generous, uxorious, feminist, and funny man. We bonded immediately. Only later did I come to realize that he was also a brilliant polymath.
That first conversation turned out to contain the foundational Holy Trinity of our relationship – human rights, Marciarose, and jokes. In 25 years, we never had a conversation that wasn’t punctuated by all three. There was never a human rights issue he wasn’t preoccupied with, never a day he wasn’t reveling in something Marciarose said or did, and never a joke he thought was too old to be unworthy of retelling.
And as the layers of our friendship deepened, I got a front row seat on how this man lived. And, watching him, I went from being a Jerry fan, to being a Jerry fanatic, to being a Jerry addict. I watched a prodigious reader devour books to satisfy a hunger for learning and understanding; I watched a man with a passionate connection to his Jewishness take the visceral influences of its culture and history and weave them seamlessly into his dream of tolerance for all; and above all, I watched how tenaciously the long arc of his moral universe bent towards justice.
And what an arc! He was a naval officer, law clerk, law professor, litigator, pro bono founder, ambassador, Bar president, author, lecturer, mediator, mentor, community leader, international icon, philosopher, poet, and, ultimately, legend. He was a consummate professional, deeply proud to be a lawyer, and unabashedly romantic about justice. He transformed every organization he touched – from the ABA to the UN – because he saw them not as they were, but as they could be, and sprinkled the same transformative magic on colleagues, friends, and children of friends.
Above all, the profound humanity at his core carried him to the front of this generation’s human rights parade – for women, for African Americans, for persons with disabilities, for political prisoners, for the whole world. For him, human rights was justice, and his lifelong mission was to pursue both, one injustice at a time. It was amazing to watch this justice juggernaut as a human rights warrior, aiming his majestic rhetorical weapons with unerring accuracy, using law as his ammunition and optimism as his inspiration.
From watching all this, I learned. I learned that you could be a lawyer all your life and still believe that law and justice have a working relationship; I learned that there was no justice without compassion; I learned that it’s about your character, not your curriculum vitae; I learned that unless you remembered where you came from, you couldn’t appreciate where you’d arrived; I learned that to succeed sometimes meant compromising your time and ideas, but never your values; I learned that it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; I learned that you could walk with the workers and still ride with the bosses; I learned that idealism and common sense were not oxymorons; I learned that the status quo was only the beginning of the conversation; I learned that courage was a transcendently trustworthy companion for controversy and conscience alike; I learned that being playful and opinionated was not inconsistent with being serious and open-minded; and I learned that you didn’t have to play to the crowd to lead it.
Most indelibly, I learned that what counts most in life is family. I learned this from watching with increasing enchantment the intensely symbiotic partnership he had with his beloved Marciarose. They both had charismatic brains and personalities, which they made endlessly available to each other; and they each had a preternatural capacity for generosity and friendship, which they made available to everyone else.
I saw them as the Fred and Ginger of American public service, choreographing some fabulous routines in law, diplomacy, journalism, the arts, and human rights, routines which consistently brought the dazzled audience to its feet.
But of course their favorite routine was the private one they created at home whenever they could with Jonathan, Jennifer and grandchildren, twirling around them lovingly in terpsichorean splendour, and marveling at the exquisite people they cherished and proudly called family. They made Jerry smile, they made him kvell, and they made him happy. They were the music to his and Marciarose’s lyrics.
And it is with lyrics that I want to end. They are from the songsheet I see every day when I’m in my office and sitting at my desk. It’s an original George Gershwin songsheet Jerry sent me after he heard me recite some of the words from the song at an ABA meeting. I used to think that the songsheet was Jerry’s way of reminding me that law, life and love should co-exist in exuberant harmony. Now when I think of the words, I think they could’ve been written just for Jerry – part elegance, part schmaltz, all-American:
Of Thee I Sing, Baby
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, Baby
Shining Star and Inspiration
Worthy of a Mighty Nation
Of Thee I Sing.
Jerry, we will always sing of thee. . .