Amazing Grace

By | 23rd October 2013

I have just returned from the Fall conference of the LCA (Litigation Counsel of America), a group of eminent trial and litigation lawyers from the United States and Canada which Millnet has been proud to sponsor for the past few years.

The event was held at one of the most extraordinary hotels I have been to. The Greenbrier is a monolithic structure in set amidst the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia in the town of White Sulphur Springs. It has been a hotel for many years and has hosted numerous US Presidents in that time as well as a number of other celebrities. Its main claim to fame, however, is that it contains within its buildings, cut into the hillside, the bunker constructed at the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s/early 1960s which was to be the place of refuge for the US President, Congress and executive staff in the event of nuclear war.

Fortunately for us all. the bunker was never used for its original purpose and it is now something of a curiosity which you may visit upon payment of a fee. The LCA Fellows and their sponsors lunched there during the conference so I can claim to have been in the presidential bunker after all!

As well as the LCA, I spent time with lawyers in Boston and Washington DC and in the sun drenched area of New England (Burlington, Vermont) where the autumn foliage was at its fabulously coloured peak and much appreciated by this particular leaf peeper!

One of the joys of travel is that not only do you see new and interesting parts of the world but that you meet and get to know a wide range of individuals with whom there is a significant level of common interest and purpose such that the whole experience is enjoyable and hopefully also mutually rewarding (in the financial sense as well as the personal!) On this occasion, I do not want to spoil the impression I hope I have given that everyone you meet falls into the category of “an enriching experience.” It is, therefore, appropriate that I omit the details of my “meeting” with one of the Sheriffs of Rockbridge County, Lexington, VA who, while perfectly polite, expressed concern over my driving on Interstate 81!! That particular part of my experience on this trip proved to be anything other than enriching!

But I do want to mention Grace Murray Hopper.

Briefly, Grace Hopper (1906-92) was an American computer scientist and US Navy Rear Admiral who is one of only a handful of women to have a US Navy warship named after her. There is a wealth of information about her if you follow the link to her name above but she came to my attention on my recent trip not once but twice whereas I had previously never heard of her.

The first occasion was while walking around Harvard Law School with a group of lawyers from the World Law Group where I was attending their 25th anniversary in my capacity as an alumnus of an organisation which now has law firms from over 50 different jurisdictions around the globe.

There, I was told the story about the “Amazing Grace” Hopper who is famously credited with popularising the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches when she found a moth in her computer and had to have it removed as it was causing a malfunction! She was a formidable lady by all accounts, being  one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, developed the first compiler for a computer programming language and conceptualised the idea of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL, one  of the first modern programming languages.

She was also a Rear Admiral in the US Navy which led to my second brush with Amazing Grace when I visited the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington DC and found myself at her graveside. Arlington is a fitting memorial to American war dead and other significant US citizens (eg President J F Kennedy, his brothers and his father, who was ambassador to the Court of St James at the start of the Second World War). The setting is majestic and the crowds respectful, sitting in the sun at the hourly ceremony of the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Warriors without so much as a single mobile phone ringing for almost 15 minutes! Incredible in the modern world which would appear so strange even to Grace Hopper twenty one years after her death and even given her magnificent contribution to the world of computer programming.

As a footnote, I suspect that no one actually checks blog posts for their complete accuracy. I try to write accurately and get my facts right if at all possible or at least make it clear where I am uncertain of them or where they have been obtained from an attributable source. But in case there is someone out there monitoring what I say, I ought to make it clear that Arlington also contains a number of foreigners as well as Americans, included amongst whom is Sir John Dill.

Born in 1881 he was Chief of the Imperial Defence Staff at the start of the Second World War and Senior Representative in Washington thereafter, dying there in 1944. Through the intervention of General George C Marshall he was buried at Arlington and his grave is marked by one of only two equestrian statues in the cemetery, see below.

 Sir John Greer Dill Gravesite

 Amazing indeed!