For my last column, I would like to take up one of President Lavin's themes for this year and pay tribute to my mentors. First and foremost, whatever integrity and ethical standards I have I owe to my parents, Anthony and Frances Loro. Their example was one of faith, devotion, commitment, sacrifice, fairness and honesty. I have always believed that we do not learn ethics and integrity from law books and professors. If you went into law school as an honest person, then you came out an honest lawyer. The decision by the Committee on Character and Fitness that you have the requisite integrity to practice law is an accident (or, perhaps better said, a blessing) of birth, and you should give the credit to your parents.
I am the product of two large, close, and loud families, both of whom are very proud of their full-blooded, working-class Italian heritage. Mostly grouped in the Chicago area, we spent time with aunts, uncles and cousins. This was both a blessing and, at times, a curse. But the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. Mostly, I saw honest people doing the best that they could for their families with the gifts that God gave them. Indeed, I felt blessed that my siblings and I grew up with essentially two sets of parents, so close were we to one of my mother's sisters and her husband, Ralph and Julia Hudson. Their two sons and I were the first lawyers in the family. We since have been followed by at least two more cousins. I cannot help but think that our grandparents, who did not enjoy the benefits of a formal education, are very proud of us.
I am also the product of a very good public education. I remember many of my grade and high school teachers with great fondness and respect. I distinctly remember one of my best teachers, Mr. Arthur Murphy, a health and physical education teacher, telling us one day in health class that, by the time a child started kindergarten at age 5, "he's made." In other words, his or her character and personality had been formed. From Mr. Murphy I also learned the importance of discipline and hard work in achieving what were for me, at that time, mostly athletic goals. I went to high school wanting most of all to succeed at basketball. I never came close to achieving that goal, but what I learned from Mr. Murphy has served me well to this very day. My other favorite teacher in grade school was Mr. Ernest Neokos, a civics and social studies teacher. It was in his classes that I discovered my interest in things political, historical, and constitutional. One of the things that Mr. Neokos taught us was that if we did not know the answer to a question, then we should "look it up." I think of this wise advice at least once every day.
I had several fine teachers in high school, whom I think of often: Ms. Armer, Mr. Berti, Mr. Woll, Mr. Landy, Mr. Severson. Some of them have passed on, I'm certain, but Elmwood Park High School celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and I hope to see some of them at the festivities planned for this October and thank them properly for their time and commitment.
When I left high school I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer, so one of the first things that I did when I arrived on the campus of the Illinois State University was to go to the Department of Political Science to find out if there was a pre-law program or advisor. I was directed to Dr. Thomas Eimermann. It was years later that I learned that my first week on campus was also Dr. Eimermann's first week on campus, as he was fresh out of the University of Illinois graduate school. From Dr. Eimermann I learned about judicial process, constitutional law, and how to brief a case. We became friends and remain so to this day.
I thought that Dr. Eimermann had prepared me well for the grind of law school, but nothing really prepares you for law school. I had several fine professors at Washington University, but what I remember most fondly are the friends that I made while I was at Wash U. I caught a break during my second year when I was hired as a summer intern in the McLean County State's Attorney's Office by State's Attorney Paul R. Welch, a Wash U graduate. The 711 Program was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. It was made possible by the generosity and patience of Assistant State's Attorneys like Danny Leifel, Charles Reynard, and Richard Wagner. When the new State's Attorney of McLean County, Ronald C. Dozier, hired me as an ASA in November 1977 (at the awesome salary of $12,000 per year), I was able to take over the Traffic Division (a one-person job back then) by the end of my first full week in the office.
While I felt comfortable in the courtroom, so long as I was not in front of a jury, I was by no means competent. I depended on Messrs. Leifel, Reynard, and Wagner to get me through the day. I would stop them in the hallways of the courthouse between court appearances, or over the lunch hour, or at the end of the day, to solicit their advice. They never hesitated to help. My good friend Richard Wagner says that it took him five years of being in a courtroom every day before he knew that he could handle any situation that might confront him. Unfortunately, I left the State's Attorney Office before reaching that milestone.
When I was hired by the General Counsel to the Secretary of State, Philip S. Howe, to help out with Secretary Jim Edgar's fledgling DUI Program, I knew absolutely no one else in Springfield. I knew even less about the Secretary of State's Office and administrative hearings. But once again I caught a break, because I landed in an office that was staffed by two excellent and experienced lawyers, Jay L. Mesi and Frank Shaw, and ably assisted by their administrative assistant, Ms. Cathy O'Hara. Even though I replaced their good friend, they took me in, taught me the Vehicle Code and how to conduct a hearing, and always answered any question that I had. I came to believe that I was meant to be here. The first day on the job I found out that Mr. Mesi and I both grew up in Elmwood Park. Mr. Mesi, Ms. O'Hara (now Ms. Milby) and I are still together. Most important and most appreciated is not that they made my job easier, but they also made me part of their families.
Whatever value and credibility that I have as a lawyer is not only the result of my years of study and hard work, but also the shared knowledge, patience, and generosity of time and spirit of all of these good people. For this, and for making life's journey a worthwhile and interesting adventure, I will always be grateful.
So, take the time to thank your mentors and be one to another lawyer.