The Dean and I | Part 4

by Elouise

FRASER_S_0330President Nathan M. Pusey and Dean Erwin N. Griswold
Harvard Law School Commencement, 1967

Who is Erwin N. Griswold? Click here for a summary of his life and service. Big things. Important things. For me, the little things made all the difference. Here are several small, telling memories.

Life at the Office
Call me ‘Mr. Griswold.’ Plain and simple. No titles on his door, and no calling people on the phone and announcing “Dean Griswold is on the line.”  He’s a human being like everyone else.

Mr. Griswold places most of his phone calls directly, not through a secretary. Exceptions are made for overseas calls or conference calls. He doesn’t expect or want special treatment.

I often see him walking around the law school turning off lights. Frugal. Penny pincher. Yes, it’s a joke around the law school. It’s also the truth: Mr. Griswold does more than his part to keep costs down. I get into the habit of doing this myself, especially in the library stacks outside my office door. Small things matter.

If Mr. Griswold’s office door is open, I’m to walk right in to deliver mail or leave letters to be signed. No need to knock. New mail goes in the letter box on the right corner of his desk; packages on the table near his desk. Letters ready for signing go into the letter box on the left hand corner of his desk. He signs them and walks them back to my desk. He always says, “Thank you.”

At first Mr. Griswold reads every letter I type. After several weeks he tells me this isn’t necessary. He smiles; why keep looking for what isn’t there? Yes, this lifts my spirits! Beyond that, it saves him precious time. Mr. Griswold doesn’t waste time.

If I have questions about titles or spelling of names, or anything else he’s asked me to do, I’m to come and ask him right away. If the door is open, just walk in. No need for permission. At first I hesitate, but I get over it. He’s always ready to help me.

Mr. Griswold knows everyone on the administrative staff by name. We receive birthday cards with hand-written notes. He also sends hand-written thank-you notes to staff members who’ve just completed or contributed to major projects. He recognizes who we are, what we do, and how valuable each of us is to the organization. He doesn’t play favorites.

The Office and the World
Mr. Griswold is a world citizen. Not simply because he travels, but because he forms professional friendships that go beyond formalities. I know about the Kabaka of Buganda because Mr. Griswold took time to tell me about him. There were others as well. He nurtured these relationships without fanfare. This is what we’re meant to do. Connect with the world. Learn from people no matter who they are.

Sometimes parts of the US world come to visit Mr. Griswold. Especially for business related to the Commission on Human Rights. One morning while he’s dictating letters to me, several colleagues arrive for a meeting later that day. Mr. Griswold introduces me.

They stand there talking about what’s going on in the South. One of them makes a harsh comment about ‘those Southerners.’ I wince. They don’t know I’m from Savannah, Georgia. Without hesitation, Mr. Griswold responds. He doesn’t point to me (as a Southerner) or scold anyone. He just talks about how he sees things differently. He has his own viewpoint and isn’t afraid to express it.

Finally, Mr. Griswold collects stamps from around the world. ‘Real’ stamps you have to lick before applying. Don’t try to pull or steam them off! Just clip them from the envelopes, leaving a nice margin around the stamp.

From time to time I give him postmarked stamps I’ve kept for him in my desk. His face lights up, especially when he see a new stamp, or one he’s been trying to find.

Years later, when I was teaching at the seminary, I still clipped exotic stamps and sent them in small batches to Mr. Griswold. He always thanked me profusely in a hand-written note. A true Mensch!

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, May 1966