Then Roy’s life seemed to cave in all on a sudden. His wife developed a respiratory problem, it turned serious in the hour it took him to rush from the court and take her to a hospital, and in three hours she was dead. He felt very disengaged from his private life, and buried himself in his work. He put his son in a boarding school and requested the principal of his daughter’s school for a counselor to attend to her needs, and started spending endless hours in his office and the bar library.
In the next two decades his scholarship and eloquence became legendary. The government invited him to be the state’s Attorney General: he served for three years with distinction, but did not like it and returned to private practice. He had initially established his reputation in criminal law; now he successfully extended his range to property law, especially landed property. He seemed indefatigable.
The school principal, in whose hands he had at one time placed the care of his daughter, was my aunt. She and the daughter had become very attached and the two visited each other almost daily. That is how the two families became close.
On my visits to my aunt I had met Roy at times. It was impossible to overlook him. A tall man with silver hair, two relucent eyes astride a Roman nose, his suave but resonant voice would be a notable presence in any living room. He never said a joke, but he was witty. He never raised his voice, but you listened to him.
On one occasion, when I was on vacation, he invited me to spend a week in his house, as his son was visiting also. But it was the father I found fascinating; fortunately he seemed also to have taken to me. Every day, when he returned from the court, we had long chats over tea. A voracious reader, he turned over his books to me after reading, and we had endless discussions over the books’ intent or significance. We both enjoyed it. He did not expect undue deference, and I was not used to easy capitulation.
I had strong views on crime and punishment; I found most penal systems repugnant. “The first thing to do,” I would say, “is to wreck them.”
“The question is what would you replace them with,” he responded gently and spoke of alternate systems and their drawbacks. He knew far more about both law and its real-life application, but never acted patronizing. He listened intently and engaged me in a frank and fair exchange.
“Even when its consequences are evil, you may want to take a hard look at the change you want before you break what you have,” he would suggest.
What a remarkable universe it was! He had dealt with a vast range of criminals, from the cunning and conniving to the brutal and violent, and yet he had come away with a realistic but hopeful view of what a compassionate society can achieve. He was conservative enough to want a lawful society, but liberal enough to disdain current law-and-order shibboleths.
When I spoke of my abhorrence of executions, he told me how his presence at a hanging had given him a sense of revulsion and induced a belated change of mind.
He told me that he maintained a special library in a part of his home that he used as an office that his children never entered and he wanted me use it. During the day he was always in the court and I could use his sanctum in complete peace.
It was the first time in my young life that an elderly person had treated me as an equal and encouraged me to dispute his ideas. It made me think in a new and perhaps better way. Also it made me feel grown-up and confident, eager to enter the fray of intellectual life.
I loved his private library and I spent hours there every day while Roy was away. I read Graham Greene and Virginia Woolf, Plato and Marcus Aurelius. I loved the peace of his inner sanctum and felt the presence of a thoughtful, cultivated man.
The library was not large, but had several shelves of hand-picked volumes. I found below the shelves a small, closed cupboard. I wondered if Roy stocked some cherished volumes there and opened it. I was stunned.
Inside stood a neatly framed black-and-white photo of his wife, very young, with a notably shy smile. In front were placed in a row a slender necklace and two diamond earrings.