Friday, February 18, 2005

The Death of a Fine Man (Oh Yeah, He Happened to be a Lawyer, too)

Note: This post will remain at the top until memorial service at 2:00 P.M. Friday

I received a call yesterday morning that a friend of mine from Winston-Salem, my former city of residence, had died after falling and injuring himself while home alone. I call him a friend, and he was one, although I had never been to his home nor he to mine. As far as I can recall, we never even had dinner together, unless it was a group function of some sort. I don't think I had ever met his wife or his kids and I don't think we ever even played golf in the same foursome or played a hand of poker together, though we had many common friends that played both-a lot. If you added up all the time we spent together in the 20 or so years I knew him, it would probably total no more than 10 hours. I still considered him a friend and felt a great loss after getting the call.
I just learned for the first time from his obituary that he was in the U. S. Army during Vietnam and had earned several commendations, including the Bronze Star. I also just learned that he was born in 1940, making him 64 years old at the time of his death. I learned that he had a half-sister and two sons. The only thing I knew about Bill Cofer was the least important fact of all-that he was a lawyer. Not only that, he was a damn good one and a damn smart one and a damn ethical one. One thing he was not was arrogant, pompous or self-serious. If lawyers as a whole were like him, public opinion of lawyers would be sky-high.
As a young lawyer starting out, you're just trying to find a way through all the seriousness and the stress and the bullshit for the first couple of years until you one day hopefully gain some credibility with the other lawyers and judges. To do that you keep your eye on people you admire or aspire to be like and see how they do it. You see the way they deal with people and try, if you can, to emulate their style, hoping something in it will ring true for you. There are plenty of pompous asses, blowhards, buttheads and blue blooded barristers to shape you, if that's what you want. I know people who make sure that the first thing and most important thing people know about them is that they are lawyers. They would gladly sell their souls to be known as great lawyers instead of great human beings. The reason I call Bill Cofer a friend is that he showed me, unknowingly and from a distance, that being a great lawyer did not mean a damn in the grand scheme of things. I learned from him, (and others), that it was far better to try and be a good person. He was a person who meant what he said; who was a true friend to his true friends; who treated young, "greenhorn" lawyers, whose only appreciable traits were youthful energy and arrogance, with a respect they did not deserve; and he also demonstrated how to be "real" in a profession chock-full of phonies. He showed those willing to pay attention how to be as serious as a heart attack without taking yourself seriously at all; how to be zealous and competitive without being the least bit of dishonest; and that humor is the most effective tool with which to hack your way through this life. I still try to keep those lessons close.
He was a terrific trial lawyer-one of the best I have ever seen anywhere-though few lawyers outside of the local bar would know him. Juries loved him for the same reason everyone did- because they had no choice. Everytime he opened his mouth, you had to smile because what he said was either clever or funny as hell or it was just the way he said it. He was witty and clever and charming and could bring a room full of strangers to tears with laughter. He was a guy that would bring a smile to your face from 200 feet away- you could tell it was "Cof" (pronounced- "koaf)," from his distinctive walk or the way he cocked his head, or by the fact the folks around him were laughing.
It's hard to grasp the fact that Bill Cofer is dead. He was a great husband and father and soldier and friend and unknowing mentor. Oh yeah, he was even a great lawyer. Rest in peace, "Cof."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I hope all is well with you and Jane. I appreciate your thoughts on Cof. He was a unique person who comes along only so often. He truely marched to his own drummer without regard for reward. There are only a handful of those that come along.
I like your site.
Jessco (DKT)

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

You probably know by now that excerpts from your comments were read at the memorial service. The family and hundreds of us friends appreciated your words. What a tribute! Something for us all to think about and aspire to. Cof will be missed. My best to you and Jane. Looking forward to seeing you in May.

Dancin' Outlaw (DVL)

11:45 AM  

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