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EZRA RIPLEY THAYER
ZRA RIPLEY THAYER was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on February 21st, 1866. His father, James Bradley Thayer, was for nearly thirty years a professor in the Harvard Law School, a man of rare scholarship, and one of the most respected and best loved teachers the School has ever had. His mother, Sophia Bradford Ripley, granddaughter of the Reverend Ezra Ripley, of the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, and descended from William Bradford, the early colonial governor, was a highly talented woman of the finest New England type. Their second son, Ezra, combined some of the best qualities of both parents. Educated in the public schools of Cambridge, and after a year with a private tutor at Athens, Greece, in Hopkinson's School for Boys, he entered Harvard College with the class of 1888. After graduation he studied in the Harvard Law School and took his degree as a bachelor of laws in 1891. The following year he served as secretary to Mr. Justice Gray of the United States Supreme Court, and then began the practice of law in Boston with the firm of Warren and Brandeis. In June, 1898, he married Ethel Randolph Clark, and after that made his home in Boston. His widow, a son, James Bradley, and two daughters, Eleanor Arnold and Ethel Randolph, are living. In 1896 Thayer became a member of the firm of Brandeis, Dunbar and Nutter, and in 1900 a partner in the firm of Storey, Thorndike, Palmer and Thayer. In 1910 he was appointed to succeed the late James Barr Ames as Dean of the Harvard Law
School, and giving up his practice devoted himself to teaching and the administration of the School. In 1913 he was offered an appointment to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, but declined the offer. On September 14th, 1915, at the age of fortynine, in the fullness of his powers, and at the beginning almost of what promised to be a most distinguished and useful career in the field of education, he died.
One July day some thirty-five years ago a small boy timidly inquired from an official of the Cambridge High School whether he had passed his examinations and had been admitted to the school. The official asked whether the inquirer thought a fellow who had got more than 90 per cent in all his examinations would pass, and on receiving an affirmative answer told the boy that he had passed. The boy was Thayer, then thirteen or fourteen years old. The promise of this early achievement was more than fulfilled. Thayer easily led his class throughout its college course. Such was his ability that an average of not more than four or five hours a day sufficed for his studies. The rest of his time was given to other pursuits. He played baseball on his class nine, was a member of a number of college societies, and joined in various social activities. In the Law School his intellectual superiority was equally marked. In a class which included not a few exceptionally good men, he was always first and maintained his leadership without exertion.
It is by no means an invariable rule that a first scholar, either in college or in the Law School, makes the best mark in after life. But Thayer's preeminence did not come from the laborious toil of one striving merely for high rank, nor from the superficial aptitude for cramming which may enable a man to acquire for use in examinations information that will never again be at his service. He had extraordinary intellectual powers and capacity, a brain that retained as easily as it absorbed, a memory so tenacious that five years after he had finished the study in the Law School of Ames's Cases on Torts he knew by name and could state the essential facts of each case in the book, more than a hundred and eighty in all. To talk with Thayer on any subject, especially any legal subject, was a keen mental stimulus. His mind to a remarkable degree had the quality described as "edge." Any discussion with him produced an immediate reaction. The most sluggish intellect was
aroused by his animation, while the precision of his mental processes rebuked and punished loose thought and inexact or illogical reasoning.
With such an equipment it was easy to predict success for Thayer as a practitioner, but such equipment alone would not have brought the success that he actually attained. To any matter with which he was entrusted Thayer gave an amount of energy and heart not at all limited by the importance of the subject. He felt that every client was entitled to his best efforts and no pains were too great, no preparation too minute, if calculated to increase the probability of success. Nothing was left to chance, and thoroughly a master of legal procedure and of legal strategy, he overlooked no honorable means of advancing his client's cause. As a junior he was ready and able to assume full responsibility, and relieved his senior of all anxiety lest anything should be forgotten; as senior counsel he made sure that the ground was fully covered. No business turned over to him had to be followed up.
Thayer practiced law in accordance with the highest standards and the best traditions of the bar. Any conduct savoring of pettifogging or chicane was abhorrent to him, and he could not tolerate such conduct in others. His keen sense of honor would brook nothing questionable. He served for a number of years on the grievance committee of the Boston Bar Association, and as its secretary with characteristic energy and method organized and systematized the work of the committee. The ethics of the profession were more to him than empty platitudes or counsels of perfection. They were moral principles intended for actual guidance. It was a peculiarly happy selection that made him a member and secretary of the committee appointed by the American Bar Association to frame a code of ethics. To the duties of this committee he gave much time, and contributed largely to the result of its labors, a code that has been adopted substantially unchanged by the bar associations of about half the states in the Union.
In 1910 Thayer was asked to become Dean of the Harvard Law School. He had then attained a distinguished position at the bar and had a large and important business. Already his friends looked forward to the possibility and probability of a great judicial career. Acceptance of the appointment meant a renunciation of the active practice of the law and a serious diminution in his chances