U.S. District Judge Stanley Brotman was a lucky man.
Judge Brotman died on Friday and his funeral was Tuesday, but a few months before he died, he had an opportunity that very few people have.
In September, when he finally retired, after closing out a long-standing case in the Virgin Islands, where he also served, his colleagues held a retirement dinner for him in Princeton. Because he was the longest-serving federal judge for the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, he had more than 38 years on the federal bench, mostly in Camden, to build long relationships. More than 80 people attended, said U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle, who now heads the New Jersey court, but started out as a magistrate when Brotman was one of three judges sitting in Camden.
"It was cathartic," Simandle said, recalling the evening and how Judge Brotman glowed. So many people were able to express their appreciation to the judge, in person, for his service and for his demeanor on the bench. I covered his courtroom for five years for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Judge Brotman was tough, but never arrogant, and I can't say the same for all of the judges I've seen in courtrooms over the years. Some abuse their position and it's distasteful to watch.
So why was Judge Brotman lucky? When I interviewed him in August, he told me he was in good health and good spirits and at age 89, was not diminished in the least. So, Judge Brotman, in fine form, got to hear that his work was valued. How often do most people get that opportunity? Rarely. Usually, it's just the opposite. How many times have we been to a funeral and heard someone praised and thought, I wish I could talk to that person now and tell him or her how much I've appreciated the contributions that were made.
So don't wait until it's too late.
I'd like to propose something today, in honor of Judge Brotman, but more importantly, in honor of all of our colleagues at work. Take a few minutes. Walk over to a colleague (or even two!) and express your appreciation. And if you want, write me a note about how it went.