George Clemon Freeman Jr. – founding father of Hunton & Williams’ environmental law practice passed away on June 26, 2017, at age 88. Some of the tributes to George have mentioned a presentation George made to members of a client group in the mid 1970’s. As remembered by Henry Nickel, George had the unenviable task of speaking to group members right after lunch. George’s less-than-exciting assigned topic was the regulation of priority pollutants under section 307 of the Clean Water Act. Seeing his audience about to doze off, George – perhaps drawing on his Yale glee club experience – deviated from his prepared remarks (as he was known to do) and launched into an impromptu version of the Lord High Executioner’s “I Have A Little List” song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. In the Gilbert & Sullivan version of the song, the list was of those to be beheaded:
“As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list
Of society’s offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed – who never would be missed.”
In his version of the song, though, George inserted the substances on the long list of priority pollutants – starting with acenaphthene, running through endless others (like cadmium, chromium, fluorene, mercury, and toluene), and finally ending with zinc.
George’s performance merited – and received – a standing ovation.
Now, 40 years after George’s performance – and in memory of George Freeman – I call up some personal reminiscences of George and offer my own version of “I’ve Got a Little List.”
As we remember George today, the anecdotes abound.
I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list.
Because anyone who e’er met George has stories by the pound.
On this I do insist. We each possess a list.
There’s the time in oral argument, when George went o’er the top.
His opponent loudly protested but George would not be stopped.
But when argument was over, George then promptly looked around
And invited to his office all the lawyers that he found.
He asked them all to stay for lunch and by the luncheon’s end,
His opponents had become his fans and long-time Freeman friends
And today they do insist: George Freeman will be missed.
Then there’re those of us who worked with George and often had to snag
At least a pair of (maybe more) black litigation bags.
George would leave town with those bags emboss’d with “Hunton” on their tops
But then something strange would happen as George made his many stops:
All the Hunton bags would disappear without a single trace
And when George returned, he’d have some other firms’ bags in their place.
If George noticed this, he would have likely shrugged and then insist,
“Our firm’s bags would not be missed. I’m sure they’d not be missed.”
And my personal remembrances of George are rather rife:
Like my very first trip with him – I’ve got that on my list.
And that taxi-driver smoking pot – a first in George’s life –
That memory exists. I’ve got that on my list.
But the thing that stands out strongest as I think of George today
Is the time we went to Tampa and he left me there that day.
Yes, without a word of warning, he rushed out to catch a plane,
Leaving me to run the meeting. I then thought that was insane.
But in dashing out, he had no plan to leave me on a limb.
As he later told me, he believed I’d never learn to swim
Unless he just left me on my own, ‘cause then he said, “I know
You’d hesitate but then your poise and confidence would grow
And by close of day, I had no doubt you’d surely run the show.
I knew you would persist. That chance would not be missed.”
So did George thereby make my career? I’d not swear that in court.
But from that day on, I would swear that I did have his support.
George had me on his list – George had me on his list.
And now he will be missed. He surely will be missed.