Message from the President – April 2016

Afi Johnson-Parris Headshot

I’ve always loved history, but I’m partial to oral history, the kind that comes in the form of a story. When it’s told in the words of those who lived it and witnessed it, that’s what makes history come alive to me.

Since childhood I’ve been fascinated by the simple daily lives of my family members and tales of the times as they experienced them. I would beg for stories about what I called, “the olden times.”  My 97-year-old grandmother would indulge my early cross examinations with an exasperated, “here you go again with all your questions!” Bless her heart for her patience. I would ask her to tell the same stories over and over again, correcting missed details and teasing more stories out of her as I discovered new lines of questioning.  Perhaps I’m raising future litigators as my children now do the same thing. I’ll admit it was a little humbling to have my son make the same request to hear about “the olden times” from when I was in college.

Sometimes a story is the only connection you have to those who have gone on before us. I’ve reached a point in life where the parents and grandparents of my peers are starting to pass away at an increasing pace. It’s not uncommon to know very little about the deceased, even as you might know the family member quite well. It can be strange and awkward to talk about their loved-one or attend the funeral but nothing cuts through those feelings and sadness like a good story about the deceased. It’s a relief to be able to not just cry but laugh when people share their memories. The best stories are normally reserved for the time after the funeral. In my church, that time of food and fellowship is called the repast and it’s something akin to a funeral after-party. For those few moments over a meal, people visit with old acquaintances and connect over stories of the departed.  It’s a reminder that although no one is here to stay, everyone can remain with us through a good story.

Law makes for good stories and lawyers, notwithstanding areas of practice, are often reliable sources of the very best yarns.  My favorite times with members of our Association are spent in the back halls of the courthouse, or killing time in someone’s office listening to stories about their cases. I also enjoy the memorials that are read at Association member meetings. Most of the lawyers I don’t know, but I love to hear how they were a part of the legal community, the funny anecdotes, how they will be missed, and the impact they made on the profession.  Beyond all of the biographical and academic data that is shared, the very best memorials contains nuggets of good stories that make these departed colleagues come to life.  I strive mightily for that good story of good family, good friends and good work.

In order to tell the story of this Association, for the past seventeen years the History and Archives Committee has quietly and diligently collected the oral history of our older, distinguished members. This project, initiated by former president Larry Moore, videotaped interviews with nearly forty longstanding members of our Association who were lions of the Greensboro legal community.   Many are still living, and some are departed, but through this project, their stories endure.

The importance of the committee’s work was too great to keep it on a shelf in the Association office. Now the committee has endeavored to share pieces of these stories with the membership in a short film during our next member meeting.  Our very special speakers for the April meeting will be the best among us who have shaped our Association and our community.  I’m sure each of us can find value in the stories that were shared in the committee’s interviews.  Join us for an opportunity to learn more about our Association history in this presentation of voices from the past and present.  If you too love a good story about “the olden times,” you’ll want to be there.

Afi Johnson-Parris ajp@wardblacklaw.com practices Family Law and Veterans Disability with Ward Black Law

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