Bar News - June 8, 2007
Judge Brennan: Once a Builder, Always a Builder
By: Beverly Rorick
Judge Brennan tries out his new commemorative chair, the traditional gift for all retiring judges. The chair was presented to him at his retirement party on May 17, 2007.
Judge Arthur D. Brennan stepped down June 1 from 15 years on the superior court bench to take on new responsibilities for the U.S. State Department as deputy director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office and director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency. Brennan’s friends and family gathered at the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord on the evening of May 15 to celebrate his life in the law—and to wish him well in his new position.
Chief Justice of the NH Superior Court Robert Lynn began the often-humorous tributes of the evening. “Art was breaking stones before he went into the law,” he said, referring to Brennan’s previous occupation as a stonemason, “and [when he became a judge] nothing much changed.”
“How shall I describe him?” asked Judge Bernard Hampsey, a longtime friend and colleague. “He’s a builder of stone walls, soon to be a re-builder of a nation.”
“Art Brennan is known for his fairness, his kindness and his humanity,” Hampsey continued. Recalling Brennan’s time as counsel to Gov. Judd Gregg, he said, with a laugh, “I don’t know how he was qualified for that job, but he did it well, so he’ll do this new job well, too—although I don’t know how he’s qualified for this one either.”
Judge Lynn read letters from U.S. Senators Gregg and John Sununu and from US Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Gregg stated, “You have always blazed your own trail—you represent the best in New Hampshire.”
Brennan’s former clerk, Larry Friedman, reminisced, “On my first day, Art said, ‘Friedman, I love the law and so will you!’ And I did.”
Bill Stafford, the judge’s brother-in-law, joked, “They call him a man of courage, but—let me tell you—he’s afraid of his 87-year-old mother!”
Brennan and his wife, Nancy, have two daughters. The younger one, Kate, could not be present, but she provided this memory of her father: “On his first day in the governor’s office, he gave each member of the family a pair of Groucho glasses to wear, to lighten the mood of the day.”
Their older daughter Molly, an actress living in Chicago, sang a Garth Brooks’ song, “Standing Outside the Fire,” in tribute to her father’s courage. The song says, in essence, that if one stands outside the fire, life is not lived, it’s only survived.
When Judge Brennan took the microphone, he began by speaking of his wife who will join him in Iraq. “I am lucky to have Nancy, the love of my life, with me,” he said.
“And my mother is here tonight, too—she comes from an old Quaker family in Weare. She and my dad helped Nancy and me build our house. I used to worry about what people would think when they saw her up on the roof—and I’d ask her to please at least go around to the back of the house!”
Brennan said that one of his first cases on the bench dealt with sexual assault and the testimony was so heart-breaking that when he got to his chambers he broke down and cried. It was administrative assistant Shayla McNulty’s first day and she didn’t know what to do when he couldn’t seem to stop. He finally said to her, “Honest to God—I don’t do this all the time!”
He expressed his admiration for our legal system. “We are so lucky to be able to say what we think, live the lives we live,” Brennan said. He praised the public defenders in particular, saying, “I am so proud of the work they do, taking on the defense of people often loathed by everyone else.”
Brennan concluded his talk by speaking of the kinship that exists between people who work together toward common goals. He read aloud Robert Frost’s poem, “The Tuft of Flowers,” which tells of a man cutting a field of grass with a scythe on a summer morning. Although he levels the field, he leaves some flowers uncut beside a brook. Another man who comes after him is working to toss the grass to dry. He sits down beside the brook at lunchtime and looking at the flowers, feels a connection to the man who has gone before him. The poem concludes: ‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,/‘Whether they work together or apart.’ Although Judge Brennan will soon be working with men halfway around the world, he believes he’ll be joined in spirit by people everywhere who work for human rights and the rule of law.