To each other they’re Bill and Tree. Two of Harvard Law School’s most distinguished professors, mentors to generations of jurists, advisers to senators, presidents and world leaders, and celebrated doers of good works, William P. Alford ’77, and Charles J. Ogletree ’78, also have been friends for, “oh, forever,” as Ogletree puts it.
So when the Harvard Law School Association presented its highest award this past spring and both Alford and Ogletree were honorees, it seemed fitting.
“I was really thrilled when I found out it was the two of us this year,” Alford said in a recent joint interview. Recalled Ogletree: “I called you, I said, ‘Congratulations!’ You said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, congratulations to you!’ I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, congratulations to you!’”
They join such past recipients as President Barack Obama ’91, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and four U.S. Supreme Court justices. The HLSA Awards are given for sustained or extraordinary service to the legal profession, to society, and to Harvard Law School.
“They are two absolutely phenomenal professors,” said HLSA President Salvo Arena, who said he was proud that during his tenure the association presented its top award to these two faculty members. Why? “We could talk for three years!” he exclaimed.
Alford is the Henry L. Stimson Professor of Law at HLS, where he is vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies. An expert on Chinese law and legal history, he is director of East Asian Legal Studies. He is also chair of the HLS Project on Disability which he cofounded (see related feature) and serves on the board of Special Olympics International. The HLSA Award was presented to him on May 16 in Paris, in connection with the alumni association’s 50th anniversary in Europe (see sidebar below).
Martha Minow, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean of the Law School said that Alford’s “scholarship and mentorship, generosity and warmth, are legendary and rightly so.” He has also played a central role in growing all aspects of global connections, she added, strengthening international studies, the graduate program, and helping to frame the most substantial changes in the school’s curriculum in more than a century, including the requirement that all first-year J.D. students take an international legal-studies course. “As vice dean, Bill has helped to establish collaborations with foreign universities that have enabled hundreds of students to study and work abroad,” Minow said. “The program on East Asia he chairs is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive. The Project on Disability he co-founded first helped to frame and now helps to implement the framework for international rights for disabled persons—with creative and culturally responsive pro bono service in China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations. Bill truly has shared his talents with the world.”
Ogletree, the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and founding executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at HLS, is a noted author in the area of civil rights, and a founder with his wife, Pamela, of the Benjamin Banneker public charter school in Cambridge. He was presented with the HLSA Award on April 24 in Cambridge during HLS Spring Reunions.
“He is a public intellectual par excellence,” Minow said. “He is the speaker for justice throughout this country and indeed the world. He is also the ‘fixer’: When there is problem, here in Cambridge or in Washington, D.C., he figures out how to fix it, how to make it possible for people to speak truth and actually reconcile and pursue justice.
“In their decades as members of this faculty, Charles Ogletree and Bill Alford have made the most enormous mark on our students, on scholarship and on the world,” she said.
From the Harvard Law Bulletin
A European (Re)Union:
The Harvard Law School Association of Europe turns 50
This past May, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow joined HLSA President Salvo Arena LL.M. ’00 and more than 200 other alumni at a celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Harvard Law School Association of Europe, held at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée in Paris. In addition to opening remarks by the dean, the event included a presentation by Professor William Alford ’77 on “China’s Challenge: Legal Development in the People’s Republic of China,” and a presentation during the academic session by Professor Charles Nesson ’63, who designed his talk in the mode of his new online course, JuryX, which explores the art and history of the deliberative process through large-scale online discussions of contemporary issues. Read the full story in the Harvard Law Bulletin online
While it may not have been cited on their awards, a particular bond connecting the two professors is a shared love for Harvard athletics. Alford is faculty fellow to Men’s Hockey, while Ogletree—or Tree, for short, a nickname dating to his own high school basketball days—is perhaps the number-one booster of Harvard Men’s Basketball.
At a recent meetup on campus, between talk of former students and international travels, the pressing question was when they would be able to take in a game together. “I need to go to a hockey game,” said Ogletree. Said Alford: “I’ve been after Tree to come with me to games. It’s enormous fun. It’s like therapy for me, better than going to a shrink.”
As faculty fellow, Alford has acted as a mentor and adviser to Crimson hockey players, arranging floor hockey matches and friendships between the team and Special Olympians, even promoting the speaking of Chinese: three members of the team ranked tops in the ECAC and eighth in the nation in preseason polls speak the language.
Ted Donato, head coach for Harvard Men’s Ice Hockey, said: “He loves to come to our games, and our guys love to see him at the games. We feel incredibly blessed to have Professor Alford aligned with the men’s hockey team. He represents everything great about Harvard, with his intelligence, humility, and thoughtfulness for others, and first and foremost, as a role model. He has become not only a great friend to our players but a person of power for our guys to have important life conversations with.”
What Jack Nicholson is to the Los Angeles Lakers, Ogletree is to the men’s basketball team. “He is that and then some,” said Tommy Amaker, head coach for Harvard Men’s Basketball. “Tree is kind of our guardian: He looks after me, he looks after our guys, he mentors our players. He comes to all our home games, sits on courtside.
“When I first came on board here as a new coach, nine years ago now, he and his wife, Pam, welcomed my wife and me into the Harvard community,” Amaker said. “I was told by a few people when I accepted the job at Harvard that, when the plane lands, one of the people I’d better find was Professor Charles Ogletree.
“I’ve been really blessed to have an amazing growing friendship with Tree. He empowers others. He counsels, he advises. There are not many people from the White House down that don’t seek his counsel. Tree has so many layers, as we all know. What I love more than anything is that he has made himself available to our players and our kids. He means a lot to me personally and he means a heck of a lot to our program.”
Another thing Alford and Ogletree share is a sense of humble roots. Alford’s grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. His grandmother was illiterate. “My grandfather always said, education is one thing they can’t take away from you,” he recalled. Neither of Ogletree’s parents finished high school, and he was their first child to go to college. “Years later, as a lawyer in Washington, I took them to the White House, and to the Supreme Court,” he recalled. “We met Thurgood Marshall. My father was so happy to see a black man on the Supreme Court.”
Said Alford: “Part of our deep and sustained interest in social justice issues—Tree with his civil rights work, me with my disability work—comes out of that. It’s so fulfilling, very gratifying.”
Each was asked to share a story about the other.
Ogletree on Alford: “Whenever I travel internationally, I ask [Bill], ‘Where do you go in China? Where do you go in India?’ He has been incredibly helpful to me. He tells me the people to meet, and the places to go.”
Alford on Ogletree: “Last year I was invited to a dinner at the White House. Of course, Tree was a teacher and advisor to President Obama and Michelle Obama. I asked Tree beforehand if he had any message for the president. Tree said, ‘Remind him about the fly-fishing.’ It was a tough period, with Syria. I said, ‘Professor Ogletree asked that I remind you about fly-fishing.’ President Obama replied, ‘There is nothing in the world I would rather do right now than go fly-fishing with Tree.’”
Given their global connections, they were asked, has either ever been proposed as ambassador to anywhere?
“Ambassadors for Harvard Law School,” Alford said. “Exactly,” Ogletree agreed.