Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dear Professor Scott,

After class I came up as the other students filed out. I was disturbed because I just did not quite get what you wanted in the paper you had assigned us. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like “Do you want this, Dr. Scott, or that or something else?” I did not know exactly what you wanted, and I wanted to know exactly what it was. I was sure I needed to know. I thought you would tell me.

You said, “Just let the chips fall, Mr. Stokes.”

To my surprise the day brightened, I relaxed, said thank you, and out I went. You liked what I wrote.

Furthermore, that conversation became part of our family’s lore, because I repeated it time and time again to my children as they grew up. “Just let the chips fall, Mary or Macon or Walter.” It was the “chips fall” story. They knew exactly what that meant. It meant that “I have confidence in you to figure this out. You have permission to paint your own bulls-eye. How you frame the issue, you not me, within bounds of reasonableness that are really wider than you think, is as much a part of this assignment as how you address the issue.” You said all that in a short sentence, and it was a sort of release.

So here am I, reading the article about you in the Duke Magazine, and thinking about you again, feeling blessed to have been in your class and marveling at how you can be your age already and me mine. I went to the University of Chicago Law School, then to New York City as a law clerk for a federal judge, then back home to Miami where I joined a law firm, and I have practiced law in Miami ever since. My wife was a freshman at Duke the year I met you, and she and I married when she finished.. We have three surviving children, each of whom graduated from Davidson College, two sons (a philosophy major and a classics major) and a daughter (an English major). The sons are in “eBusiness” in Austin and are married. Mary teaches English at a boarding school for missionary children in Kijabe, Kenya. One son in Austin has two tiny children. If I live long enough, I’ll tell them the “chips fall” story.

Please add my thanks to all the others you richly deserve.


Paul Stokes
Class of ‘68


mary said...

Great article and letter. But who was it who coined the phrase "it's a good first draft"?

Sean Meade said...

very nice post, Paul :-)