There’s a little less laughter, now that George Koelzer is gone.

The passing of a mentor, and friend, may induce some melancholy thoughts.  But when only positive and pleasant memories are associated with that friend, then recollecting yields joy.  With that mindset, I reflect on the passing of my first boss (in private practice), George J. Koelzer, Esq., at age 69. 

Most lawyers who knew George had their own unique way to describe him, but for starters, I repeat one from a book with a chapter about George, ‘at 6-7, he looked like a linebacker gone to seed.’  Add to that, his large-featured face, black hair, a booming voice, and most of the time puffing cigar smoke right in your face.  He could be brusque or charming, witty or cutting, but either way, George loved when the pot was boiling and the strategizing was at a heightened pitch. 

The best lesson I got from George about trying complex cases was that it will not go according to plan.  Witnesses will change, or water down, their planned testimony – or not even show up.  Wise experts will be led astray on cross-exam.  Plainly admissible evidence will be excluded.  Judges will befriend opposing counsel, and so on.   Prepare all you want to, but be prepared for what you haven’t prepared for.

While many recollected occasions with George bring on a smile, there was an annual rite.  We agreed on what was the most important weekend of the year, but we disagreed on why.  I knew that the first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby, but George knew it as the weekend of the Maritime Law Association dinner.  All our lawyers would drive into Manhattan, gather for drinks at the Whitehall Club (men only then), check into rooms next door at the N.Y. Athletic Club (spy the Heisman), get on the tux, and go to the MLA dinner.  [I did stop at OTB to put down my Derby bets].  Suffice it to say, those celebrations paid no heed to the clock or the sundial.  George was in his glory there, among the colleagues he most enjoyed, making grand introductions, keeping our glasses filled with distilled spirits and our ears filled with unending stories and jokes; oh, and cigars for everyone! 

When finally I awoke, trying to put words into sentences seemed a struggle.  I hastened to the office, and there was George fully-suited in hand-tailored dark pinstripes and white starched shirt, feeling fit, and urging that we go over each and every word in a brief on some arcane point of 2nd Circuit law.  He seamlessly could go from carousing with judges or associates, or clients, to serious study or explication of a legal argument.  He lived the law, and its practice.  It wasn’t what he did just on weekdays.

The lessons I learned from George about trial practice have always served me well.  I too learned not to try to smoke or drink as much as a 6-7 linebacker, even one ‘gone to seed.’  We all miss our youth, our mentors, our formative experiences, but their aura persists, as does the fragrance from the days we received those laurels.  George, please don’t argue with Saint Peter about being admitted to the hereinafter club; but if he were to, I’d think George’s argument would be compelling, and may have a dash of humor in it.  R.I.P.