February 2016 Bar Bulletin
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The Memoirs of John N. Rupp

Second in a Series


When we left you last month, Mr. Rupp was waxing nostalgic about Maurice McMicken.

Mr. McMicken was an outdoorsman — a boater, a fisherman and a hunter. When I was a boy Mr. McMicken and his three sons used to shoot ducks on the Nisqually Flats, and occasionally our family of Mother and Dad and six children and a maid would have enough ducks for a fine dinner. None of this nonsense of cleaning the ducks, either. The butcher at 34th Avenue and East Cherry Street did that for us. Ah, those were the days! Doughty hunters, big bag limits on game, no home freezers, accommodating butchers and a maid. They were also the days, though, of ice boxes, coal ranges, hand-stoked furnaces, one bathroom to a house and quarantine for children’s diseases.

Mr. McMicken’s yacht, LOTUS, was a familiar sight in Northwest waters for years. She was built in about 1910 to the design of L.E. “Ted” Geary. She was 92 feet long and very distinctive in appearance since she had full headroom on two decks above the basic hull. She had two gasoline engines and could do about nine knots. Mr. McMicken dearly loved to take his friends for cruises on this commodious vessel and was a delightful host. My wife and I regularly honor one of his “LOTUS rules” when we have week-end guests at our house on Davison Head on San Juan Island, i.e., the rule that everyone has a drink before breakfast.

Another thing that I remember about Mr. McMicken was that his room was on the northwest corner of the building, and hence at the corner of Marion and Post Streets, and that he used to say that when he looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting north of Duwamish Head he knew that the back of the winter was broken. (Post Street, by the way, was the only street in Seattle oriented north and south. All other streets ran, and still run, east and west. The north-south thoroughfares are avenues. Some years ago, however, a distressingly conformist City government changed the name to Post Avenue. A pity, for it spoiled the old trick question: “If you walk easterly from the waterfront up Columbia Street to Broadway, how many streets will you cross?” Answer: “One. Post Street; all the rest are avenues.”)

Let us return to the law firm. With Mr. Haines’ withdrawal in 1890 the name became Struve & McMicken, but it stayed that way for only two years. In 1892 two new partners came in, and the name became Struve, Allen, Hughes & McMicken. The Allen was John B. Allen of Walla Walla who had just finished his service as the first United States Senator from this State.

I never knew Senator Allen, he died in 1903, but he was reputed to be “the best lawyer in the State”. I know that, among other things, he had been United States Attorney for the Territory and that just before Statehood he had been elected as the Territory’s Delegate to Congress. He also was Reporter for Volumes 1 and 2 of the reports of the opinions of the Supreme Court of the Territory. Judge Struve was Reporter for Volume 3, so all three volumes of the Territorial Reports, and there were only three in 35 years, were ushered into the world by members of the firm. The only other matter I recall about Senator Allen was that he had a wife who was something of a tartar in her later years and that her visits to the office gave rise to the aphorism that any law office should have a back door to enable the partners to avoid such incursions.

Of Mr. Elwood C. Hughes I have no recollection at all. He came here from Iowa in 1890 and was a partner in the firm of Hughes, Hastings & Stedman. Two years later he joined our firm. I have been told that he was an able lawyer, but not exactly a witty colorful figure. He must have got on with people fairly well, however, for I know that he was a member of the Seattle School Board for nine years, and in 1906 was President of the State Bar Association.

So the firm went along for eleven years as Struve, Allen, Hughes & McMicken, and then Senator Allen died, and Judge Struve retired from practice in the same year. This was 1903. The firm’s practice must have been such that Mr. McMicken and Mr. Hughes could not handle it alone, for almost immediately two new partners were added, and the name became Hughes, McMicken, Dovell & Ramsey.

By all accounts Mr. William Thomas Dovell must have been quite a figure. I never knew him because he died when I was three years old. He was half Irish and half Portuguese and referred ruefully to the Irish in him by saying, “The Irish are a brilliant but erratic race.” He came here from Walla Walla in 1903 at the age of 34 and was a noted trial lawyer. Indeed, my father said that at Christmas in 1915 the judges of the State Supreme Court wrote Mr. Dovell a letter saying that Senator Allen had been the best lawyer in the State and that since his death that place was filled by Tom Dovell. Why the judges would do that I cannot imagine, and I have never heard of their doing such a thing since. (Come to think of it, though, perhaps they write such letters regularly. But no; that couldn’t be, for I have never received one. Gee, maybe they do at that. What a disquieting thought!)

The Ramsey in the new firm name, though, I knew quite well. He was an Iowan, and I think that he came to Seattle with Mr. Hughes and was a stenographer. Male stenographers and secretaries were not at all rare in those days. Indeed, as late as 1947 I remember a law office in the Lowman Building in which all the stenographers were men. Rather a forbidding place too. They looked up at you and growled, “Well, what do you want?”

Anyway Mr. Haswell John Ramsey was admitted to the Bar here in 1895 and in 1903 became a partner in the firm. He retired three years before I came in, but I knew him from the time I was six because the Ramseys lived across the street from us — on the east side of 35th Avenue, next to Harold Preston’s house, between Cherry and Columbia Streets.

Mr. Ramsey was a literal-minded quite humorless man. He was an office lawyer and almost never tried cases and when he tried to try them he was no good at it. But he was an exceedingly competent draftsman, of whom my father once remarked “Well, Ramsey drew it, so you’ll find that it provides for everything, including the second coming of Christ.” He was a great hand at complicated business transactions.

Mr. Ramsey, however, is famous in the firm not because of his considerable abilities, but because of his spectacular faults. He was both a dedicated ladies’ man and a notable hand with the bottle. I know very little about his escapades with the ladies, but I understand that they were numerous and most frequently not with types that one would bring home to meet one’s mother. With the bottle he was rather more than a social drinker. He evidently was more the two-week-drunk type and his “trips” occurred at unpredictable times. For example, he was once in the midst of a business conference, excused himself to go get a match and just disappeared for several days.

Bernard Reiter told me that, on one occasion when Mr. Ramsey was handling an important task, he, Bernard, as the young man in the office, was directed to stay with Mr. Ramsey and see that he didn’t get a drink. He accomplished his mission, although one afternoon he had to follow Mr. Ramsey into the steam room of a Turkish bath and he had to go so fast to do it that he had no time to take off his clothes. He said his suit got pretty soggy, but haste was necessary lest Mr. Ramsey bribe the attendant to bring him a drink while Bernard was undressing.

Ramsey stories were thick around the office while I was there, and he must have been a caution all right, but he must have been good for something for he was in the firm for 33 years. But the drinking got worse as time went on, and finally in 1936 the firm forced his resignation. The partners, however, paid him a pension until he died in 1944.

(Next month Mr. Rupp introduces us to his father, Otto Burton Rupp.)

John Rupp served as president of the Seattle Bar Association (as it was then called) in 1956-57 and president of the Washington State Bar Association in 1966-67. After graduating in 1937 from the University of Washington School of Law, Mr. Rupp served as one of the first law clerks of the Washington Supreme Court. He then went on to a distinguished legal career, first joining his father’s firm, McMicken Rupp & Schweppe, which went through several name changes before dissolving as Schweppe Krug & Tausend in 1989, at which time Mr. Rupp became of counsel to Preston Thorgrimson Shidler Gates & Ellis, a position from which he never officially retired. Mr. Rupp was Vice President General Counsel of Pacific Northwest Bell from 1962-75, then returned to private practice. John Rupp passed away on August 21, 1996, at the age of 83. He never stopped writing.

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