Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Lions of New York

In Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, the father of main character Sherman McCoy is a partner at a prestigious New York law firm, hilariously called Dunning Sponget. The father is semi-retired but he still shows up to the office most days, does some work and makes some rain. He is called the Lion of Dunning Sponget, a man of sterling character and a lawyer of unquestionable reputation, who can never be fired and never quite retire.

These Lions are real. The New York Times has a short list of them, including recently retired Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau.

Right after I graduated college I briefly worked at a law firm where I saw, roaming the halls every so often, a very elderly man. I didn't know what he did at the firm and he only seemed to show up there once or twice a week. Everyone seemed to ignore him and he seemed to ignore everyone else so I had no idea who he was but he had an absolutely huge office filled with an immense amount of paper and pictures and junk. Later I learned that he was an old partner who had represented kings, queens, vice-presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, famous Old New York families, and was in fact the son (hard to think of him as anyone's son) who had served in FDR's cabinet.


They may be lions in winter but they are certainly keeping warm in some very lucrative cages. And they are links to our history who we should appreciate while they're still here.

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