Ah, yes, the gift of rejection. By the time I was nineteen I finally met a pretty girl who thought I was wonderful. What she saw in me I have yet to discover. Perhaps it was that I thought she was quite wonderful too. But there was something else there. There always is – the need to be respected, to be accepted — even loved. Underneath all the noise and panting and craziness of first loves there is often something that is trying to be born, that is struggling in the pain of birth. I suspect that was true with me. She must have understood that. I have written about that phenomenon in a book called, “The Making of a Country Lawyer.
I entered law school and graduated magnum cum laude which was only the result of being afraid I would fail and be kicked out. I didn’t have enough money to rent a cap and gown so I never attended the graduation ceremonies. I was married to that wonderful girl with our first child.
Then I became the first honor graduate in the history of the law school to fail the bar. A lawyer up north in Worland, Wyoming had offered me free office space and he would send me the leavings of his practice. You know – the divorces in cases without much of a fee, and he would send me the fender-bender automobile accident cases. I was excited, delighted, ecstatic. But the offer was withdrawn when I failed the bar.
When I passed the bar the second try I finally got a job for $200 a month in the small town of Riverton, Wyoming. I have written about that on this blog recently. I lost that job when my employer became the local judge. I had to get another job. I’ll admit: after a grueling door to door campaign for prosecutor that took me to the Indian reservation “teepee-tapping,” and after having knocked on every door in a county nearly as big as some of our smaller states, I was, at twenty-four, elected the youngest county attorney in the history of the state. But my successes as a politician ended there.
After two terms as prosecutors I wanted to go to Washington. I ran as a Republican. We have all sinned. Democrats were suspected Commies in those days. I ran against William Henry Harrison (the President’s grandson) in the Republican primary for Wyoming’s only seat in Congress,
My campaign slogan was, “Let’s be heard in Washington.” My opponent had been in Congress for years and wasn’t a ranking member of even the least important of the many committees of Congress. I discovered that the people of Wyoming simply didn’t want to be heard. They wanted to be left alone. Even though I knocked on most of the doors in this sprawling state my defeat was massive and absolute. I did carry one precinct, namely, Bill, Wyoming. Three votes. Somehow I managed to get two of them.
I, an utterly provincial country boy, was desperately trying to escape the provincial town of Riverton. I had four kids by this time, and by this time I had represented insurance companies, and also held the record for the largest personal injury verdicts for ordinary people in the state. Moreover, I’d been a prosecutor.
So I argued to the Wyoming law school dean that I could teach law students all about trial work. I was rejected out of hand. No way. The dean wanted some young pointy head out of a big law school who had been in a big firm for a year or two. That would add to the standing of U.W. Law School. We do not want you.
Then maybe I could become a judge. I asked my Republican pal, Stan Hathaway, then the governor, to appoint me to a vacancy that had just arisen in my county. He called me to his office in Cheyenne, there to show me a pile of letters he’d received from his Riverton constituents who were more than mildly opposing any such appointment. He turned me down. So, soundly rejected, I quit the law.
Why is rejection such a glorious gift? Hang on for Part III.