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Richard Walden Hale


Centurion, 1903–1943

Born 30 June 1871 in Milton, Massachusetts

Died 5 March 1943 in Dover, Massachusetts

Buried Evergreen Cemetery, Kingston, Massachusetts

Proposed by George S. Greene Jr. and Charles Fairchild

Elected 3 October 1903 at age thirty-two

Archivist’s Note: Brother of Robert Sever Hale; father of Richard W. Hale Jr.

Century Memorial

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a law firm’s strength ordinarily is measured by the number and extent of its testamentary trust estates which in other localities are an important part of the regular business of the banks and trust companies. By this test or standard the Boston law firm of Hale and Dorr, of which Richard Walden Hale was the head, is said to have ranked third—a position close enough to the top to excite the envy of many firms less fortunate. Hale himself may have valued the economic security implicit in this situation but his own tastes and talents led him into other and quite different fields.

One of the many younger men whose companionship he chose because passage of time had not yet set in to slow up their imaginations has said:

“It always seemed to me when I was in his office with the portrait of his Elizabethan ancestor above the fireplace, or sitting in the visitor’s Windsor writing armchair and looking past his rugged features to Faneuil Hall in the distance; or when I received an abrupt—almost monosyllabic—reply to a letter, that I was in contact with a personification of the English common law. His interests, his sense of values, his temperament, personified in dramatic measure its traditions, its culture and its strength.”

One hardly need say to complete this striking picture that that stalwart votary of the English common law—Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes—was Hale’s friend and lifelong idol.

It was one of Hale’s cherished points of professional pride that he was a free lance, unfettered by any tie to or tie-up with any group or class or any stratum of a social or financial hierarchy that would bar his employment by a humble client having a just and meritorious cause. He would rather have represented a stockholder than a bondholder and a plaintiff rather than a defendant and he always deplored as an irreparable loss to the legal profession the untimely death of our late fellow Centurion, Joseph P. Cotton, to whom he attributed the same likes and dislikes and the same freedom of action. For many years Hale expended valuable time and effort in service as the general counsel of a nation-wide organization for the enforcement of our constitutional guaranties against racial discrimination.

In 1926 Hale started a practice much appreciated by his friends of writing for circulation among them at the Christmas Season a monograph to bring forward a historical personage, which he hoped might have “merit for a footnote to history.” Outstanding among these contributions to history and literature are: “Some Account of Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford”; “Sir Richard F. Burton at Salt Lake City”; and “Three Words.” The last mentioned of these three offerings reveals one of Hale’s own experiences with Justice Holmes and although it is pretty sure to be told in detail in the forthcoming biography of Justice Holmes for which Hale was helping to assemble material it may be briefly retold here. In one of Justice Holmes’ judicial opinions he had referred to “decisions rendered under the afflatus of the Eighteenth Amendment” and the word afflatus was so gratifying to Hale’s discriminating taste that he complimented the Justice when they next met. “Yes,” replied the octogenarian Justice, “I thought it was a pretty good capriole.” Afterwards, from the large Oxford English Dictionary in the Boston Public Library, Hale learned that a capriole was the act of a colt kicking up its heels.

Geoffrey Parsons
1943 Century Memorials