“When you’re coming in for a landing, always have your landing gear down.”
Honorable John T. Curtin, United States District Judge (retired)
My 94-year-old father-in-law retired the other day after 48 years on the federal bench. Yes, you read that correctly. Nominated by Lyndon B. Johnson in November 1967 and confirmed by the United States Senate a mere 17 days later, he formally retired in April of this year.
At a gathering of esteemed colleagues and dignitaries, he offered what he said were quirky and quixotic thoughts. Some in attendance interpreted his remarks as wise words by which to live a rich and rewarding life.
Whereas those speaking in honor of him appropriately looked back on his career, the Judge only looked forward. He spoke about the need for each of us to have plans and dreams.
To illustrate, he cited the example of the Wright Brothers. “We all know them, of course. You know — they had a good thing going with that bicycle shop of theirs .”
After noting the courageous risks required of these two aviation pioneers, the Judge shared two dreams that energize him today: providing assistance to Syrian refugees and returning his beloved home town Buffalo, NY to its former glory as envisioned by Frederick Law Olmsted.
While you may think these are the well-intentioned but idle dreams of a 94 year old relaxing in his recliner, read on.
After his remarks, the president of the Bar Association of Erie County mentioned to my wife that the Judge had recently summoned him to discuss and plan how the bar association can provide pro bono services to Syrian refugees relocated in the Buffalo area. And over the last few years, he has met with Congressman Brian Higgins and the president of the local Audubon Society to discuss his big ideas for returning greenways and green space to the Buffalo landscape.
And what is this nonagenarian’s advice for living a long life? Pretty simple:
Get a job. Get up in the morning and go to work. The next day get up and go to work again. At night get enough sleep.
At the opening of his remarks, Judge Curtin recalled training as a Marine pilot and the advice dispensed to him by his commanding officer: “Don’t embarrass yourself. Remember, when coming in for a landing, always have your landing gear down.” This anecdote perfectly captures both the Judge’s engaging sense of humor and his discerning mind. Indeed, we all need to plan and execute well.
He closed his remarks, saying, “I’m coming in for a three-point landing and I have my wheels down.” What’s most astonishing and inspirational is that as you read this post, Jack Curtin is surely taxiing to the runway for yet another take-off.
For assistance with this post, thanks to Patricia Curtin (my wife and the Judge’s daughter), Mike Brady (my brother and one of the legion of Judge Curtin’s former law clerks), Dennis Schaeffer (my nephew and another former clerk) and Paul Campana (a close friend and also a former clerk.)