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Sunday, May 20, 2012

No. 102 From Courthouse Square in Beaufort to Eisenhower Auditorium in State College

Joel Hancock Law Firm
One of my own father's earliest memories was of traveling in a sail skiff to Beaufort with his father in 1914 to see and hear the politician and statesman, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was serving as Secretary of State in the first Wilson administration and was traveling the country to shore up support for a war that had divided the country. He had twice been a candidate for President and would later earn more lasting fame as a central character and prosecutor of John Scopes in the famous (infamous) "monkey trial" in 1925.
William Jennings Bryan
"The Great Communicator"

Bryan was widely considered to be the greatest orator of his time. He must have been something special to have left such a lasting impression on a five-year-old boy who was still a year away from starting the first grade. Until his death in 2002 at just short of his ninety-third birthday, my father would speak of that experience with both pride and clarity. He would describe the setting, the excitement in the crowd, sitting atop his father's shoulders, and even the storm-tossed sailboat ride home late that evening. But what most impressed me, his tenth and last child, was his vivid recollection of what he heard said that day on the steps of the new courthouse that had recently been erected just two blocks from the docks of the bustling Beaufort harbor.
Charlie Hancock, my grandfather

"Deny a child and education," he often repeated, "and you might as well cut off his arms and legs!" And to add credence to his assertion he would add, "That's what William Jennings Bryan said when he came to Beaufort in 1914."

Though my father's own education would conclude in the seventh grade of Harkers Island School less than a decade later, he was a firm believer in the value of an education, and he did his best to make sure that his children had opportunities that he had not. He served on the local school board for a time and took a then unpopular stand in advocating consolidating the Island's high school with Smyrna to increase opportunities for local children.

And, largely because of his esteem for Bryan, he held a deep admiration for the legal profession. He viewed both judges and attorneys as the consummate professionals, and the title "lawyer" was one he venerated and respected. I think that when he himself served as a local tax-lister and registrar he may have imagined in at least a small way that he was fulfilling a role as part of the legal profession.
My father holding and reading to my son, Joel Jr.,
in his favorite easy chair

The memory of those moments and images came rushing through my mind as I watched his grandson, my son Joel, walk across the stage to accept a degree and the title of "Juris Doctor" and "Attorney at Law." I was sitting in a group that included Joel's son, my grandson, Calvin. In my imagination, I could see my father, both as a little boy on my grandfather's shoulders and as an aging old man bouncing his own grandson on his knee. I could feel for and with him a sense of honor and pride that this grandson was now entitled to wear the mantle and robe of the same profession as had the immortal Bryan.

For a few minutes, I was part of something that was as impossible to deny as it is difficult to explain. There I was sitting in an auditorium six hundred miles from the only home I have ever known, but I was smack dab in the middle of a gathering that somehow included not just my son (Joel) and grandson (Calvin), but also my father (Charlie William) and my grandfather (Charlie). And just as amazingly, there was even a special seat for the "the Great Commoner" himself, William Jennings Bryan, as he too shared in the pride of an event that he helped to inspire almost a century earlier.


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  2. I love your stories Joel...this one particularly :)