Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bob Bordone’s moving tribute in the HLS Bulletin to Roger Fisher

by Robert C. Bordone
Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher

It is the spring of 1997 and I am sitting in Pound 107 while Roger Fisher ’48, Williston Professor of Law, Emeritus, is telling a story about his serving as a weather reconnaissance pilot in World War II.

As a teaching assistant for the Negotiation Workshop, I have heard the story at least a dozen times by now and feel my mind wandering. And yet, against my will, as the story reaches its crescendo and the combination punch line/negotiation lesson flows from Roger’s lips, I find myself involuntarily leaning forward and, a second later, helplessly bursting into laughter. The note I jot down to myself is: “All of life is about who tells better stories.”

Storytelling was indeed one of Roger’s finest talents. His sense of timing, the inflection of his voice and his radiant smile seemed to be perfectly calibrated with his audiences, whether they were law students, diplomats, soldiers or community mediators.

But teaching about “all of life” was Roger’s real gift and his ongoing legacy for generations of students and others whom he touched, directly or indirectly, through his work.

In many ways, Roger did not fit in easily at Harvard Law School. In a profession that trains students to identify analytical gaps in others’ reasoning and to posit critical arguments for why something—an idea, a vision, a reform—that might seem likely to happen at first glance couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t happen, Roger took a different tack. His energies seemed ever focused on figuring out how things that seemed unlikely could be made reality. In this way, he unwittingly exposed himself to charges that he was an ivory tower idealist, unaware of the harsh realities of a world filled with malevolence and evil.

But to those who knew him, to those who witnessed his sharp mind in action every day, just the opposite was true. Here was a man who, after serving in Europe in World War II, returned home to learn that his college roommate and two close friends had perished in the conflict; a man who, as a young State Department lawyer, assisted W. Averell Harriman in crafting the Marshall Plan; a man who served as a fierce and partisan advocate for the government in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court as a young lawyer. Though he had witnessed the consequences and carnage of violent conflict, Roger somehow chose to see, engage and elicit the best of human potential.

Read the full article in the Harvard Law Bulletin.