The Dean and I | Part 2

by Elouise

Dean's Office Langdell 2,1965

Mr. Griswold’s office, 1965

A grandfatherly looking gentleman opens his office door and comes out to greet me. He’s wearing a plain dark gray suit and a tie. He has graying hair and a serious yet friendly face. I like his unassuming demeanor. This is not what I expected.

 Erwin N. Griswold, 1904-1994
Erwin N. Griswold, 1904-1994

Mr. Griswold invites me into his office. Several things catch my eye.

  • The office feels relatively small, not like the office of a very important person.
  • On my left there’s a standup desk. Does he use it? It’s old and weathered, like other things in the office.
  • The dean’s desk is at the far end, facing the door. It’s moderately large. Not a show desk, but a working desk. A beautiful globe of the world sits on a shelf behind the desk.
  • Three bewigged men look at me from portraits behind the desk—obviously big wigs in the history of the law school.
  • The top of his desk has a strange assortment of items. A simple flower vase, a pot full of sharpened pencils, a weather barometer, books, papers, letter boxes, assorted small mementos, a photo of someone, and an ink-blot mat.
  • The office feels comfortable. There’s a working table just inside the door, an easy chair, a two-armed hardback chair, a couple of straight-back chairs and a swivel chair behind the desk. Nothing is ostentatious.
  • Book shelves line the walls. They’re packed with books and papers.
  • Two phones sit behind the desk. One for regular calls, and one with direct lines to important people.

Mr. Griswold invites me to sit in the two-armed chair. He sits in the easy chair, facing me, but not directly. I’m grateful for this. My heart is pounding.

Mr. Griswold has reviewed my application and wants to hear more about me. He’s interested in my work at the Bible college, my work for the referee in bankruptcy, my music background, and all the places I’ve lived. I begin to relax.

He’s interested in what it’s like to live in the Deep South. He also enjoys hearing about missionaries who stayed at the group mission homes I lived in as a child. He asks if I’ve ever lived overseas. No, I haven’t. Do I speak any second languages? No, I don’t.

He asks what brought me to Cambridge and what D is doing. He asks what I want to do with my life. I’m not sure. After my husband finishes here at Harvard I might go back to school.

Mr. Griswold asks about my office skills. Besides typing, I take Gregg shorthand. I also know how to use a dictaphone. That’s important. On weekends he sometimes comes in and leaves dictation on a disk. Before I leave, he has me do a timed typing test on the typewriter I might be using.

Besides being the dean, Mr. Griswold teaches a required tax law course. He also raises money for the law school, which receives no funds from the university. That’s because the university financial motto is “Every tub stands on its own bottom.”

Mr. Griswold travels frequently in the states and abroad for business. He’s a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and meets with them regularly. This is important; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing segregation is still new, and there’s a lot of work  to do.

One more thing: We have a connection. Polio. Mr. Griswold’s wife is a survivor. I tell him about my mother and Diane, and what their polio is like.

Mr. Griswold’s world and mine seem to have gotten off to a happy start. He seems a quiet, hardworking man who cares about people. His eyes twinkle from time to time. I don’t feel at all uneasy with him. I feel safe.

Several days later I get a phone call. Would I please report for work on Monday morning at 8:30am? Yes!

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 April 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, Dean’s Office, Fall 1965
Photo of Mr. Griswold: