Monday, August 16, 2021

In Memory of John Logie

Frank Boles

Last week, I learned that John Logie, a past member and chairman of the Clarke Historical Library Board of Governors, had died. The news caused me to reflect on how important the Board, and its members, are to the Clarke Historical Library.

John was a leading Grand Rapids attorney, an active politician who served as mayor of Grand Rapids, a man very proud of his hometown, and someone very interested in history. I had known of his interest in history for many years, but when I asked him to consider serving on the Board, he was both actively practicing law and serving as Grand Rapids mayor. Despite these other commitments, he signed up as a Board member with considerable enthusiasm.

When his name first was mentioned, I was reminded by the then-CMU University Counsel of an interesting fact. Before I came to CMU, the Board and the administration had gotten into what was often described as “troubled times.” Eventually the Board sought independent legal advice from John Logie, who took on the task pro bono. The problems were eventually solved, but lawyers remember such things. My answer was pretty simple – if there’s a next time, wouldn’t we rather have him on our side?

As it turned out, there was several “next times,” and John played a critical role in solving the problems.

On one occasion, the Clarke received a “cease and desist” letter from an attorney demanding the removal of some material on our website. John led the Board through a careful discussion of the matter, thinking about it both in terms of history and law. In the end, he was satisfied that the history was good. As for the law, he admitted the library could still be sued, but he concluded the other side would not only lose, “they’d look like jerks.” And if they sued, he would happily use his press contacts to facilitate that look. The lawsuit never materialized.

Another example of John’s tremendous importance to the library came as the Clarke more widely embraced exhibits. As we expanded the exhibit program, we also began to occasionally borrow things for display. Since being a borrower but not a lender is a tough position to maintain within the special collections world, we would need to reciprocate by honoring exhibit loan requests made for material from our collection. However, the Clarke had not previously loaned items, and Board members strongly disagreed about what to do.

In what was becoming an ugly situation, John used his great skill to first mediate a reasonable compromise, and then, when one member still disagreed, to carefully lead a formal discussion on the matter. Although the discussion did not end in a unanimous vote, it did end in a way that made everyone comfortable that their opinion had been heard and considered, and more importantly for me, accepting of the outcome. It was a masterful job – one for which I was very grateful. No director wants a warring governing board, or a board on which members go forward holding bitterness towards one another over things said and done in the past. John ensured that did not happen.

But John was more than “our” lawyer. He loved history and was an active advocate for the library. He could, and would, bend the ear of anyone he knew (and he knew a lot of people!) to help the library. He also had a wealth of good stories. John had been in the navy and learned to love the water. He not only had good navy tales, he had his own stories from his annual “Miscreants’ cruise.” John had bought a historic but almost derelict boat, restored it, and he and a few friends took an annual cruise up Lake Michigan to various ports of call. At full speed this mighty vessel could manage to make twelve knots. John’s goal wasn’t to get wherever he was headed fast, but rather to enjoy the ride and the comradery of his friends. 

I am sure others will write knowingly about his skills as a lawyer, politician, and mayor. But the John I knew loved history and as part of that love played an indispensable role in the development of the Clarke Historical Library. I will miss his good advice, his helpful interventions, and most of all, miss him. He was a good man.