Source: MLA Report, Fall 2000|
Doc. No.: 753
Date: November 3, 2000
Festschrift to Honor the Memory of
WILLIAM GARTH SYMMERS
November 30,1910–August 16, 2000
MLA Life Member 1938–2000
MLA Vice-President 1964–1966
I believe that I knew Bill Symmers longer than
did any other member of MLA. We became friends in the early 1930s at Charlottesville,
VA, where, incidentally “Garth” was a prominent family name. In 1935 we
were both members of the graduating class of the University of Virginia,
Bill getting his LL.B. and I my B.A. In 1939, my last year in law school,
I began to think about getting a job in a law firm, preferably an admiralty
firm. The only maritime lawyer I knew was Bill Symmers, who was then working
for the U.S. Maritime Commission in Washington. I went up to get his advice
and found that he was in the process of converting the old Dollar Line
into the new American Presidents Line. Because of the time difference with
San Francisco he did not leave the office until 9:00 p.m. I knew that his
father was then a prominent admiralty lawyer in New York, and Bill passed
on his father’s advice: “If you want to make a lot of money, go into a
Wall Street firm. If you want to have a lot of fun, go into an admiralty
firm.” Then and since, Bill Symmers liked to have fun, so he ended up in
the admiralty, and so did I.
I never made much money, but I certainly did enjoy
the admiralty practice.
Bill did not interest me in the maritime law;
I had that interest when I entered law school. What he did interest me
in, however, was the Maritime Law Association. In 1952 he successfully
proposed me as a member. Bill always liked to help younger lawyers in the
admiralty practice, and in May 1976 two of his protegees became the senior
officers of MLA. I was elected President, and Frank O’Brien was elected
First Vice-President. Bill attended the meeting at Vesey Street and sat
in the front row next to Arthur Boal. As he looked around, he said to me:
“David, in 1952 1 knew everybody and you didn’t know anybody. Now you know
everybody and I don’t know anybody.” That fall MLA had its first resort
meeting in the U.S., at The Breakers, Palm Beach. I persuaded Bill to attend,
and he did have a good time, including a tennis game with my wife Eleanor.
In 1956 the firm of Symmers, Fish & Water
was organized, and soon became well known in “The London Market.” In 1960
Bill became a member of the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Admiralty
Rules. At that time it seemed quite possible that admiralty procedure would
disappear, being absorbed into the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However,
effective July 1, 1966, the Committee produced a marvelous and ultimately
successful compromise in what was called the Supplemental Admiralty Rules.
Admiralty Practice and Procedure were retained but one of the best features
of the FRCP, the Discovery rules, were introduced into the admiralty. Ten
years later the distinctive admiralty procedure of arrest and attachment
came under Constitutional attack by some judges and professors. This time
it was the MLA itself that by 1985 had beaten back the attack.
At the time of his death Bill’s length of membership
was exceeded only by that of Ed Longcope and Nick Healy. All in all, Bill
Symmers was a very successful Proctor in Admiralty and a great friend to
his colleagues and clients.
David R. Owen
President, MLA (1976–1978)
Festschrift to Honor the Memory of
JAMES J. HIGGINS
Who Served as President of
The Maritime Law Association of the United
from 1968 to 1970
James J. Higgins came to Kirlins as an associate
attorney in July 1948. He had been in the army in World War II, and subsequently
he attended Fordham University where he obtained his LL.B in 1946. He was
born and raised in Jersey City where politics is endemic to citizenry.
Through his political connections he commenced his practice experience
as the Trustee appointed to manage a bankrupt Chinese restaurant in Jersey
City. Recognizing the limited future in that role, he sought employment
through various other connections, one of which led him to an interview
at Kirlins and thence to employment for the rest of his professional life
with our firm. He took little, that I can recall, from his experience managing
the Chinese restaurant other than a lifelong delight in good Chinese food.
During his career, Jim became involved in just
about every aspect of maritime practice and rose through the Maritime Law
Association, in which he took a lifelong interest, from the positions of
Membership Secretary and Association Secretary to President of the Association
from 1968 to 1970. During that period there was considerable activity in
the marine ecology area in which he took a great interest in serving as
Chair of the Ecology Committee and as member of the three-man negotiating
committee with Nick Healy and Gordon Paulsen acting on behalf of the P&I
Clubs in resolving the issues then arising out of the new concept of financial
responsibility for oil pollution incidents. Jim hugely enjoyed traveling
in connection with his firm, MLA and CMI activities and was well known
in the Far East, England and on the Continent. He was recognized worldwide
for his extraordinary sense of humor and his network of personal correspondents
kept up a lively exchange communicating the latest examples of local ribaldry
on an international scale to the delight of his partners. Jim and I were
associated professionally and as sincere friends for close to 50 years,
a good part of which time we were partners. To many of his intimate friends
and to others with whom he was not so friendly, Jim was sometimes thought
of as a curmudgeon and, in fact, his partners viewed his abilities in this
area as carrying curmudgeonry to an art form, otherwise unmatched in their
experience. In my mind, all organizations are the better off for having
among their group a solid curmudgeon who sharpens the mind and wit and
quickens the action, and Jim provided that service for Kirlins with aplomb.
Those of us who worked closely with him greatly
miss the fun and mischievousness that was so much a part of his nature.
As I say, every firm needs a curmudgeon like Jim Higgins. Happily, my partners
have found another curmudgeon (not me) but all in all Jim Higgins remains
Treasurer of the MLA, 1978 to 1998
It is difficult for me to realize, but it’s true,
that my first meeting with Jim Higgins occurred when he was a student in
my admiralty class at New York University Law School.
My next contacts with Jim were in the years 1964–66,
when I was President of the MLA and he was its efficient Secretary. We
worked together closely during that period. I remember particularly the
polling of the membership by mail on whether we should have a first out-of-New
York meeting, and, if so, where it should be held. (The overwhelming response
was in favor of such a meeting, and most replies chose New Orleans as the
situs. San Francisco was the runner-up and the next out-of-New York meeting
was held there.)
I also recall Jim’s skillful handling of the loan
of the New York admiralty oar to the famous Nautical Museum at Greenwich,
England, for an exhibition of admiralty oars from all over the world. The
New York oar, the mace of the New York Vice-Admiralty Court until the Revolution,
is now owned by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New
York, but is on permanent loan to the Museum of the City of New York. After
we had obtained the Court’s permission, Jim retrieved it from the New York
Museum, arranged for transportation and insurance, and saw to it that it
was safely back in New York after the exhibition closed.
Not long after he was Secretary, Jim served as
President of the Association, for two one-year terms. He presided at our
meetings with great aplomb, following Roberts’ Rules of Order so
faithfully that when he became a Past President he was appointed the Association’s
Parliamentarian, a position he handled very efficiently, but with good
Jim’s wit was famous, and his poignant remarks
enlivened many an MLA meeting. He will be sadly missed whenever MLA members
gather in the future.
Nicholas J. Healy
President, MLA (1964–1966)
Jim was an original who could always be relied
upon to enliven our MLA meetings with colorful remarks, often based on
his personal experiences. He sometimes posed as a politico, whimsically
professing special knowledge of how things are accomplished in the real
world. But underlying it all was Jim’s practical, solid good sense. Early
in his practice, Jim became an expert on legal issues related to the marine
environment and continued his interest at least until he retired from active
practice. At recent meetings of the directors, to which Past Presidents
were invited, Jim’s absence was noted with concern, invariably resulting
in general inquiry as to his well-being. Jim will be greatly missed.
Herbert M. Lord
President, MLA (1974–1976)
Many who were merely acquainted with Jim Higgins
thought of him as a rather rough and tough guy, not much interested in
things like classical music, art and “finer things in life.” It is true
that he could be “rough and tough,” and that was often the impression he
wanted to give.
But to those who knew him well, as I believe I
did, there was another side to Jim, which revealed that he was a well-rounded
and most interesting kind of man.
Under his sometimes hard-boiled exterior was a
man who cared deeply about music, literature and the welfare of others.
One of his favorite expressions was “You can take the boy out of Jersey
City, but you can’t take Jersey City out of the boy.” He was from Jersey
City, and made no attempt to be something he was not.
He did care about the law, especially maritime
law, and was intolerant of practitioners who did not adhere to the highest
standards, professionally and personally.
Jim Higgins served with distinction as President
of the MLA from 1968 to 1970; Vice-President, 1966–1968; Secretary, 1961–1966;
Membership Secretary, 1959–1961. At the time of his death he served as
Parliamentarian, a recognition of his expertise in “Robert’s Rules of Order”
which he cited whenever he thought it advisable.
We all will miss Jim, his parliamentary skill
and his trenchant wit. The MLA will never be the same without him.
Gordon W. Paulsen
President, MLA (1982–1984)
I remember Jim Higgins fondly as a man of much
good will, good humor, and devotion, and of positive decision where decision
was required. He spoke in debate with eloquent force, and with a strong
vein of irony that enhanced the interest of much that he said, both in
and out of council.
Although he was a powerful advocate when spoke,
he reminded us by example, when the bar seemed more and more to need the
example, that lawyers could practice vigorous advocacy with good humor.
Even when not speaking and unannounced, he could never be unnoticed.
He was our parliamentarian for many years, and
I borrow the words of his perennial motion to say, “I now move that a unanimous
ballot be cast” for his election to our Hall of Presidential Fame.
Graydon S. Staring
President, MLA (1984–1986)
Jim Higgins was a fine lawyer, a gentleman, and
a good friend. His wit and humor never failed to lift a gathering whenever
we met. He was also a devoted member of the Maritime Law Association, serving
in many capacities over many years, including President from 1966–1968.
His last official title was as Parliamentarian and our meetings frequently
included a word from Jim regarding procedure. In 1986 after the Nominating
Committee gave its report, Jim rose to propose that the Secretary be instructed
to caste one ballot in favor of the proposed slate of officers, and that
motion was unanimously carried. I was Secretary at the time and to have
some fun with Frank O’Brien, who was the new President, I wrote Frank a
week or so later to say, with regret, that I had forgot to cast the single
ballot within the statutory time limit and that under New York law he was
therefore not validly in office, citing many fictitious legal authorities.
Frank called Jim to find out if this was so and Jim, not to let Frank off
too easily, said that Frank was functus officio, i.e., out of office.
But it didn’t take Frank long to realize he was having his leg pulled.
Jim was always a delight to be with. He will be
remembered with affection and we shall miss him.
Kenneth H. Volk
President, MLA (1990–1992)
John Sims, my mentor, introduced me to Jim Higgins
on my first trip to New York for an MLA meeting in 1956. Perhaps because
Jim and I were both associates in our firms, we became fast friends and
occasionally had a beverage or two together. We maintained our relationship
through his final illness. In one of our first conversations, Jim, who
had just returned from a trip to India, enthralled me with his stories,
including the fact that he had to register and be certified as an alcoholic
in order to get a drink legally. I was much impressed.
In 1969, when he served as President of our Association,
we were in Tokyo for a Comité meeting. Through the influence of
my father, a newspaper man, we were invited to the office of the Associated
Press in Tokyo, where we hoped to get international publicity for the CMI,
Higgins, and Kirlin, Campbell & Keating. I am not sure what coverage
we received, but, after the meeting with some very nice gentlemen from
the A.P., we decided we would go to a tea house (or perhaps a bath house)
in downtown Tokyo. We hailed a cab outside of the building where the A.P.
office was, and showed the address of the establishment to the driver,
who refused to take us. We hailed another cab and got the same result.
After ten minutes of bewilderment, we finally learned that the place we
desired to go was directly across the street from the building where the
Associated Press was headquartered. Since he claimed it was all my idea,
Jim never let me forget the experience.
Jim was a fine lawyer, a gentleman, and a good
friend, and I will miss him.
George W. Healy, III
President, MLA (1992–1994)
Each of us who knew him should be very thankful
for the productive life of the twenty-sixth President of The Maritime Law
Association of the United States, James J. Higgins. Jim provided leadership
to the Association by serving as Secretary from 1961 until 1966, Vice President
from 1966 to 1968 and President from 1968 to 1970. Since that time he was
willing to continue his service to the Association as the Parliamentary
Aide and in numerous other meaningful capacities.
Jim was always most generous with me by sharing
his time and advice. During my term as First Vice President, and then as
President during 1996 to 1998, he would often call and share his thoughts
with me. However, he was always very careful to phrase them in such a way
that they were merely his “reflections” and that he did not wish to influence
me unduly. However, his comments, that were usually very direct, were always
constructive and given in the true spirit of helpfulness.
Often, my contemporaries and I shared experiences
that we had during our younger days with Jim Higgins. We each had some
humorous events to relate. However, the underlying theme behind these comments
was the knowledge that Jim was attempting to be helpful to us as lawyers
I recall most vividly, early in my career, at
one of the P&I Association’s counsel meetings, that Jim and Pat Higgins
singled out Anne and me to be invited to dinner as their guests. At that
time, he was Immediate Past President of the MLA and I was just beginning.
It was a very generous and thoughtful gesture and I appreciated it then
... and now. I am sure that many others share such similar instances.
During the following years, it was my pleasure
and privilege to get to know Jim well. His traits as a maritime lawyer
and as a leader committed to The Maritime Law Association of the United
States greatly enhanced the legacy of each of us and to The Maritime Law
Association of the United States.
We shall miss him.
James F. Moseley
President, MLA (1996–1998)
I had to good fortune to know the late James Higgins
for over 30 years, both as a fellow member of the Association and, at times,
as a participant in some of the legal matters and cases that passed between
our mutual firms. As a fellow New Yorker and a graduate of the same law
school as Jim, I am indeed saddened by his passing. The Association has
not only lost a firm and provocative voice in the matters of the Association
but also an interesting and extremely humorous gentlemen.
Most of my activities with Jim arose in the last
10 years when I had the opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time
at the offices of Kirlin Campbell & Keating in connection with a litigation
with one of his younger partners that had been ongoing for many years.
During the occasionally heated discussions regarding the testimony of the
various witnesses, Jim would always find the occasion to pass by the deposition
room and drop in. Thanks to his warm Irish charm and, at times, pointed
and extremely colorful comments, whatever the incipient problem was seemed
to have been resolved. All concerned would have a fine discussion unrelated
to the case which assisted the participants by making them feel better
as the beneficiaries of Jim’s well chosen and pithy comments.
As a younger member of the Association, I remember
vividly the dinners in New York under Jim’s tutelage as President. One
of these evenings included the stirring sounds of the New York Police Emerald
Society Pipe Band introducing the members of the Association with the tunes
of the Garyowen as we all assembled for dinner at the Commodore Hotel,
a place long remembered by the older members.
Jim was always noted for his ability to turn an
apt phrase and to diffuse many difficult situations with his fine Irish
wit. The Association has lost a fine gentlemen and someone whose ‘Higginsesque’
comments will long be remembered by those of us who had the opportunity
to come in contact with Jim and to be the beneficiary of his thoughts.
Howard M. McCormack
President, MLA (1998–2000)
Jim Higgins was one of the true giants of the
Maritime Law Association. His contributions were many since he served as
Committee Chair, Membership Secretary, Secretary, Vice President and, of
course, President of the Association. In addition, for as long as I can
remember, he was the official Parliamentarian for the MLA.
While his professional contributions to the Association
were extensive, what made him truly memorable was his charm and his wit,
which endeared him to all those who knew him personally, and to those whose
only acquaintance with him was by listening to his comments at various
MLA meetings. Whenever Jim Higgins rose to his feet, everyone perked up
because they knew that, whatever he had to say, it would be interesting
or witty, or both.
From a very personal standpoint, I will never
forget the kindness he showed me as a young lawyer when I served on one
of his committees. He went out of his way to show me the ropes and welcome
a young lawyer into the fold. To be treated in such a manner by a lawyer
of his eminence and stature meant a lot.
With his high professional skills, unfailing courtesy,
and a great sense of humor, Jim Higgins epitomized as much as anyone what
the MLA is all about. I’m sure I speak for all those who knew him when
I say that we will miss him sorely, but we will never forget him.
William R. Dorsey, III
President, MLA (2000–present)