My Uncle, Leonard The Lion-Hearted

Dear Michael and Caroline,

So here are some bare facts about my Uncle Leonard. Probably born ticked off at everything, though maybe the cause was more nurture than nature.

Went to military school for a while, apparently because he acted unruly, though I’m unsure how so.

Went to Horace Mann prep school for a while, too, but got kicked out, and I wish I knew the specifics.

My grandmother had a photo of Leonard in his military uniform looking stern, practically glaring at the camera. I asked her why he looked like that, almost angry, and she replied, no doubt with understatement aforethought, “It’s possible he was unhappy.”

Went to Yale Law School – Old Blue, as he once mockingly called it; he always had a lot of mockery in him – and married a Frenchwoman named Monique while there.
Spent some time in the Army – had to be the early 1950s – and learned to drink himself under the table, or maybe just others.

He joined a so-called white-shoe law firm, and eventually struck out on his own.

He harnessed his anger in the service of argument, a trial lawyer so ferocious as he argued a case in court as to be downright feral.

“Know how I win in court?” he once asked me at a family dinner. “I cut the other guy’s balls off.”

Rather a vivid pointer, that, bordering on barbaric.

He kept lions all over his house – statues of lions, paintings of lions – no doubt because he fancied himself a lion, Leonard the Lion-Hearted.

He built his law firm, along with a partner, until he had 20, 30, 40 lawyers reporting to him. He mainly represented insurance companies, including the illustrious Lloyd’s of London.

Once over dinner he announced to the family, with no small pride, that he would now be affiliated with Lloyd’s as an agent. He told about how, once at a meeting with other Lloyd’s representatives, someone had said to him, “Sheft. Is that a Jewish name?”
Lloyd’s had allowed in few Jews, perhaps none ever from New York, and he had crashed the club, proudly so.

Oddly, he had long since joined the WASP precincts, talked like a WASP, openly admired WASPS, the old money, the snobbery, the social standards.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.


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