In memoriam - Claude Thomson, vir bonus

Claude Thomson, vir bonus

Vir bonus, disceptandi peritus,
qui non solum scientia et omnia facultate dicendi perfectus,
sed moribus.
Quintilian, Institutiones Oratoriae (definition of a lawyer)

In a recent book entitled Phares (2010), the French historian and writer Jacq ues Attali stresses that in the past, only a few men and women have emerged leaving a durable track in history and giving a sense to the development of the world by their philosophy, art, science or action. He relates the life of some thirty celebrities from Confucius to Hampate Ba. Such men and women have served as lighthouses in humanity, shining light to the whole universe. Attali ends: ‘notre monde a besoin de phares’.

Claude Thomson was one of these phares, unquestionably in the legal world, but also in the wider human society.

Claude was a prominent lawyer and a prominent arbitrator. To be a lawyer is very important. The great French jurist Georges Ripert used to say of himself ‘ni philosoph, ni technicien, seulement juriste, qui est déjà beaucoup’. Claude has been an undisputable leader of the world legal profession. He achieved the highest positions that any lawyer can dream about. He was President of the Canadian Bar Association and Secretary and President of the International Bar Association and, with his faith and efforts, acquired the highest level of respect by the world legal and arbitration communities.

I have heard by phone or read some of the wonderful valedictory things about Claude from his many friends: ‘Claude was a good listener, flexible and strong, a quiet and clear leader of the IBA’ (Steve Pfeiffer); 'very transparent, honest, consensus builder, who constructively contributed to the harmonious success of the IBA' (Francis Neate); 'he was a most sincere and thoughtful man … always firm and good humoured … No words can adequately describe his pleasing demeanour and positive thinking' (Ross Harper); ‘he epitomized all that we seek in life: leader of the bar, president of country and international bar associations, admired for his devout religious faith, a loving wife, five children and many grandchildren. We recall his skill when fly fishing! Also, a fortunate few benefited from Claude’s exceptional culinary skill’ (Tom Forbes).

The principles that guided his professional life were exemplary. When asked in an interview conducted by Jeffrey Leon what advice would he give to young counsel starting out, Claude did not hesitate before replying that it was ‘integrity’.

‘The single most important quality of a top advocate is a wellearned reputation for integrity. The reputation will help to attract clients, allow one to engage in productive and efficient dealings with other members of the profession, and perhaps most importantly, will help to pry open the sense of justice in the most closed minded judge.’

Claude was moulded according to the qualities that an American Dean (Anthony Kronman The lost lawyer) enshrined as the ideals or the ‘lawyer-statesman’ who not only seek to promote the interests of his clients within a framework of public norms whose soundness is taken for granted, but who is ‘also a public-spirited reformer who monitors this framework itself and leads others in campaigning for those repairs that are required to keep it responsible and fair’.

But above all, Claude was a good man. Quintilian, the Roman jurist of the 2nd century, started his definition of a lawyer stating that a lawyer is predominantly a vir bonus, a good man. All the condolence messages I have seen mention without exception the outstanding virtue of Claude of being a good person. This is the greatest eulogy that can be made of a lawyer.

From a meeting we had in Barcelona, I noted that Claude was a firm believer in God, in family values and in justice. In a world where injustice, war and poverty ride comfortably, and in a changing profession, uncertain and vacillating about its future, we are desperately in need of beacons who think and act as Claude did, with moral advantage, high aspirations and acting with humility, faith, confidence, speaking the truth and with authority based on the respect for others.

Claude was also a good fisherman. I do not know if Christ selected his first followers from fishermen for their virtues of simplicity, patience, honest competition and fairness. Or perhaps such followers achieved and treasured such virtues because of being chosen.

The first men that our Saviour dear
Did choose to wait upon him here,
Blest fishermen were; and fish the last
Food was, that he on earth did taste:
I therefore strive to follow those
Whom he to follow him hath chose
(William Basse, 1653, The Angler’s Song

We need lighthouses, such as Claude, that radiate intense and comforting light for the legal profession, especially its younger generations, to find the right way and bring a steady hand on the rudder to a haven of peace and justice in the world.

Ramon Mullerat OBE


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