Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Seeing a Mentor

At last week's CCP meeting, I saw one of the people who has had a major impact on my development as a person. Harold Fridkin, one of the best of the "old school" Democrats, attended the meeting, and seeing him again after a few years was a breath of fresh air.

I had the pleasure of practicing law with Harold for five years. In a profession that tends to reward the brash and obnoxious, Harold was a gentleman. I worked with him on heated litigation, but he was always cool and professional. When we had major conflicts with opposing counsel, Harold kept me focused on the conflict, and not on the opposing counsel. I recall in particular one case involving some public figures and a referendum. If ever a case called for political posturing and self-righteous abuse of opposing counsel, this was it, but Harold would have none of it. We won at the trial court, and Harold's dignified treatment of opposing counsel helped our opponents dismiss their own appeal. If he had less class, we could have litigated that silly case for another year or two.

When I worked for Harold, I decided I wanted to join the Centurions program with the Chamber of Commerce. I needed to have Harold sign my application, because the program would take me out of the office for significant chunks of time. I approached him and asked him for his support, and he looked at me and asked, "If I let you do this, will you bring in lots of clients?" I thought about lying, but told the truth, instead. "No, not really. I'll meet people, and maybe they'll become clients someday, but, no, I'm not going to bring in clients because of this."

"Good," he growled. "Because if that's why you were doing it, you'd stink. If you want to get involved in something, make sure it's something you really want to do. That's the only way you'll be worth a shit."

There aren't many senior partners who would offer that kind of perspective to a younger lawyer, but that's the way Harold is. You can always count on him to stick to his principles, and share them if he knows you're open to them.

You can't know Harold without knowing about his kids, and, now, his grandchildren. Too many men of his generation lived for their profession, and maintained a stone wall between work and home. Harold never played that game. His pride in his children is a huge part of who he is. And, if you get to know his children, you see that the feeling is mutual. I can imagine few tributes to a father that could be better than the warmth with which his children speak of him.

The thing about Harold isn't that you see him and you think, "I want to be him." He's faced troubles and challenges you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. But, if you get to know Harold, you'll think, "He inspires me to be the true me." He did that for me, and I suspect he's done that for a bunch of Kansas City's best Democrats - and a few Republicans.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct. Harold is a prince.

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