Five years ago in an annual checkup I was told by my doctor to my shock that he thought I had kidney cancer. And I was aware from my own professional background that that’s usually lethal. And I was forced to face my old mortality. At that terrible moment in my own life, Bob Gaudino came back to mind. I was determined to take the approach that I believed he did. I was going to learn from this experience. I was going to teach from this experience. I was going to make something worthwhile out of it and I was going to lead my life in that vein. Well happily it turned out not to be lethal. It was benign. Even so I have personal deep sense of gratitude among other things to Bob Guadino because at a terrible moment in my life his example was of tremendous value to me.

I have one other completely unrelated anecdote. But it was a very important one where again in some measure what I learned at Williams from Mr. Gaudino held me in good stead. He talked about learning, courage and fighting the institution. I went to law school and upon graduation became an assistant district attorney in Bronx County during the Fort Apache days, the early, mid ‘70s. I was rather full of myself doing quite well and I was promoted quite quickly into the Homicide Bureau, which was kind of an elite place. And I picked up a group of files that belonged to a fellow who had left. And in it was a case that immediately became a crisis for me. It involved a very terrible homicide, an elderly couple that had been murdered in the course of a burglary. There were two people charged with this crime, a fellow who had confessed and another who was the person who had shot this fellow, who had not confessed. In looking at the file, New York had a rule that you could not prosecute someone on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. And that’s all there was. So what my predecessor had done, he had obtained what was in effect an unlawful indictment of a guy who undoubtedly guilty, and was sweating him in jail, figuring he would eventually plead. Or in any event he was off the street. And I found the case agonizing. I talked with the detectives and said, “Get me some corroborating evidence.” And they came back—it was just not to be had. My legal duty was to cut the guy loose. And my institutional duty was to plead him out quietly to something. And I was obliged to think through a painful, uncomfortable situation. If I was going to be committed to being within the legal system and believed in it, there were moral and ethical obligations that pushed in one direction. And institutional things that pushed in the other.

The kind of uncomfortable learning that had started at Williams lead me through the thicket. I stood up to the situation, cut the guy loose. I concluded that I had a higher duty to the law. And I thought about Gaudino during this kind of crisis period. The answer to the question lay in asking myself who I was and who I wanted to be. He doggedly never let you forget that that was one of the essential questions that you had to ask. It was not about cleverly spouting back the text or showing that you could synthetically spit back what Spinoza said. It was this again the question became what made you a good citizen and who the hell you were going to be.

Steve Phillips '68, now practices international environmental law, based in New York