In the essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man” (it should be person ,but it was 1841). If ever this was true, it is true of Paul Tobias and NELA.
Paul’s vision was for the employee plaintiff’s bar to join together to pursue justice in the workplace and to nurture one another. Charles wasn’t his only early recruit. He met with Robin Potter & Tom Geoghegan to get their support for an organization in 1983-84. I was privileged to be at the ABA committee meeting (1984, I believe) when, with the help of Naida Axford (she had recently won a landmark decision in the Arizona Supreme Court), he invited a group of us for an evening meeting. He pointed out that for us, every case was a long uphill battle, with the deck stacked against us. We needed an organization to help sustain the effort. He challenged each of us to contribute $500, promising that he would establish the legal entity, start work on a first newsletter and set up a first board meeting by conference call. Every member, he insisted, had to commit to take a call from any other member who was looking for ideas or advice. This Exchange carries forward that commitment.
Paul’s endless enthusiasm, his recognition of the need for the Institute, his openness to ideas that were not his own and his wisdom in passing the torch as NELA grew were all vital to NELA’s success.
Equally vital was his commitment to the ideal of ensuring for every worker the right to dignity and fairness on the job. It was a deep and longstanding passion for him. Once, I had a discussion with him at a conference about the New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in Monge v. Beebe Rubber Co. It’s a remarkable opinion handed down way back in 1973. It openly challenged the viability of “at-will” employment and upheld a contract remedy for what we now call quid pro quo sexual harassment. A week after I got home, Paul sent me a note with a copy of a letter he had written to the Chief Justice of that court, back in1973, praising the decision. The note said that he had sent the letter because he was so heartened by the decision that he felt, at the time, that he had to express it in some way. This demonstrates that his commitment to justice in the workplace was life-long.
We have come so far in the decades since those times. We have yet so far to go. Paul’s commitment to justice in the workplace and his vision of an organization of advocates laboring for that cause, should be remembered and cherished. We are all in his debt and can benefit by the power of his example. Adieu, my friend. Well done!