Remembering Mary Louise


Evans “Buddy” King

As I think about things to write about, I often look at my life as a lawyer. There is a treasure trove of stories in the last 40 years since I applied to law school.

Three years of exhilarating and mind numbing (at times) law school experiences, and 37 years of memories at my firm, seeing it grow from two offices and 25 lawyers to 14 offices and over 300 lawyers.

If I can’t find stories in there, I should surrender my iPad. There are stories of successes and failures, accomplishments and disappointments, loyalty and betrayal, tears and laughter.

One story I have always wanted to write is about “Mary Louise Gallagher-Babcock.” The story is about how random life is at times and how small acts of kindness can change the course of another person’s life.

Mary Louise had something to do with admissions at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at William & Mary in the late 1970’s. I don’t know whether she was in charge of admissions or an aide in the office, but I do know that my name would mean nothing to her today, assuming she is still around.

She was only a few years older than I was, so I assume she was not in charge. I have remembered her name vividly, however, from a letter I received about 40 years ago.

It was in April or May of 1977, and I received a letter with her name on it, saying that my application to law school at W & M was being “reconsidered.” At the time, I was a newlywed, living and working in Montgomery County. I had been out of college for two years and while my “plan” had always been to go to law school and practice law, I was approaching the point of no return.

I was married, my wife and I lived close to our families, and most of my great pals from Christiansburg High days were still around. I had a decent job as a 23 year old branch manager of a bank ($8,000 a year!) and the president had recently told me that “my future was bright and that there were going to be a lot of mid-level management jobs opening in the future.”

He offered this as incentive while I heard it as threat. Thus (a word I would never have learned to use but for law school), between my wife’s encouragement and my realization that time is linear and the future is now, I decided to apply to law school.

On a midwinter afternoon, having come home from work after another less than thrilling day at the bank, my wife said “why don’t you apply to law school for next fall?”

So I hopped in the car and drove over to the library at Virginia Tech to look at the law school catalogues for UVA and W&M. (At that time, Internet meant what happens when you made a bad shot in tennis or volleyball).

It was UVA or W&M or bust, those being the two public law schools in the Commonwealth and private schools and debt both being bad words in my upbringing.

The catalogue search led me to disappointment at first. My desire had been UVA law because of my love for the University from my undergrad days and because it was the law school of Kennedy’s and Wall Street stars and many an accomplished attorney.

Most importantly, it was where Cousin Joe had gone and it was several hours closer to home than Williamsburg. I wanted to be a “Double Hoo” like Joe. This was mid-February and I read that UVA’s application deadline had passed on Jan. 1.

I then looked at the W&M book and it showed a deadline of March 1, just two weeks away. W&M was almost certainly the least well known of Virginia’s four law schools at the time, but it was public, the tuition was reasonable (ridiculously low in hindsight), and most importantly, it was still a possibility for the coming fall, not another year away.

So I hurried up my application, got it in, and waited. But in late March, I received a letter from the school saying that my “LSDAS transcript” had not arrived and that as a result my application was rejected.

This transcript was another item that the clever folks at Princeton Testing (the college board folks) had convinced academia was necessary to the admissions process – at significant charge by Princeton of course. So I shrugged my shoulders and said “maybe next year, maybe not.”

Then Mary Louise enters my life. The very week my wife and I moved from the remodeled chicken coup (seriously) that we were living in to a nice little duplex in Blacksburg, the letter arrived.

Mary Louise was writing! She told me that my “LSDAS transcript analysis” had arrived and that my application was being “reconsidered.” While the letter didn’t say “admitted,” my thought was that certainly these so and so’s wouldn’t tell me it was being “reconsidered” and then dash my hopes again a few weeks later. In a few days, my acceptance letter arrived and off to W&M we went in August.

I have often thought about how easy it would have been for Mary Louise to have tossed this piece of paper in my “ended” file, for her not to have considered that there were real consequences for real people from these decisions. I have also occasionally thought that while this decision got me in, it probably kept another deserving guy or girl out. I hope whomever it was has gone on to a good and fulfilling life.

Maybe Mary Louise didn’t have anything to do with this decision; maybe she was told by her boss to sign the letter and send it out. Maybe all incomplete applications were reconsidered if they became complete by a certain date.

I choose to credit Mary Louise, however. In fact, I went by the admissions office my first week at school and thanked her.

She was pleasant as I recall and did not disavow credit. So her name has lived in my mind for these past many years, as a heroine in the career I have had as a lawyer. She helped put my daughters through college and gave us nice lives. She allowed me to meet many interesting people and have many unique experiences.

I googled Mary Louise in preparation for this column. There is a Mary Louise Gallagher who now lives in Charlottesville and is about the right age. I hope it is my Mary Louise and that she is happy and healthy and has had a good life so far. Thanks MLGB.

Evans “Buddy” King grew up in Christiansburg and graduated from CHS in 1971. He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he practices law with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson PLLC.