ORALHISTORY OFBRUCE TERRIS
II. GROWING UP
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Steve Steinbach, and the
interviewee is Bruce Terris. The interview took place in Bruce Terris’s office on Thursday,
May 29, 2014. This is the second interview.
MR. STEINBACH: Good afternoon, Bruce.
MR. TERRIS: Good afternoon.
MR. STEINBACH: We are going to focus today on background – what ultimately brought you to
Washington, D.C. to work in the Justice Department, and there’s a lot before
that. So why don’t we start with the first, which is the date you were born
and the place you were born.
MR. TERRIS: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and it was August 3, 1933, I’m told
MR. STEINBACH: Why don’t you tell us generally about your parents: where they grew up,
where their ancestor’s families originally came from, to the extent you know.
MR. TERRIS: My father’s family came from what I think was called White Russia and now
is Belarus. I know essentially nothing about that background. My father
never talked about it, and I guess I wasn’t smart enough to ask. They came I
believe in the 1890s to New York, and they moved to Michigan. My father
was born soon thereafter in 1902. They lived in a neighborhood, I am told,
where they spoke Yiddish. My father, I was told, did not speak English until
he was about 5. Other people in my family said that isn’t right, that he did
speak English before then. Obviously I don’t know. He was a very smart
man. He got into the University of Michigan but his family was not wealthy
at all. His father was in the scrap business, getting things from the railroads,
the Grand Trunk Railroad, getting debris, things that they didn’t care about
and had left there, and he would sell them and that’s how he made his living.
He died, I don’t know how old he was exactly – my father could have been in
his teens, maybe a little older than that, but something like that.
MR. STEINBACH: So this would have been your paternal grandfather who died?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I never met my paternal grandfather, and I don’t believe I ever met my
paternal grandmother either. So my father couldn’t stay at the University of
Michigan. I don’t think he was there very long at all because it was too
costly. He couldn’t live at home if he went to Michigan, so he went instead
to what was called then Wayne University in Detroit. I believe at that time
he studied to become a doctor. We didn’t have the system we now have of
going four years to undergraduate school and then having four more years of
going to medical school. I believe it was just one piece. I don’t know how
long that was. In the very early 20s, he got his medical degree and he went
to practice medicine in Detroit. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
He had five siblings. He was the oldest, and he was the only one that I
believe went to college. It’s possible that one of his sisters did, but she
unfortunately got tuberculosis when she was very young and had to go live in
Colorado and she died fairly young. I did meet her. I went out to Colorado
with my father and I think I met her once, maybe more than that. The rest of
the children did not go to college. It was a family that was certainly
strapped. I don’t know that I would call them poor. Poverty – and this may
not be the place [to say this], but my experience with poverty, with which I
do have considerable experience by working on the street – in many ways
has a lot to do with money but also has a lot to do with [the way] you see the
world, and I have a feeling they weren’t poor in the sense that they may not
have had a lot of luxury but that they were very forward-looking and
optimistic about where they were going.
My mother’s family I think came to the New World roughly at the same
time. They came from Poland. They went to Toronto and that’s where she
grew up. Her parents moved to the United States and to Detroit – so maybe
that’s when she moved to Detroit too. She was a nurse and she worked at the
hospital where my father practiced[. . .]. She also had several siblings. I’m
not exactly sure how many because they weren’t all in Detroit.
I was born as I indicated before in 1933, and it was in Detroit, and we
lived on the east side of Detroit.
MR. STEINBACH: In the city itself?
MR. TERRIS: In the city itself. That’s where my father’s office was, on the east side of
Detroit, and that’s where huge – then, not now – automobile factories were.
His practice was heavily automobile workers. And at that time nobody had
insurance, so he was paid or he was not paid as the case might be. Certainly
we were not wealthy, certainly not in the time before I was born and even
after that. They were struggling. I don’t want to make this into that they
really were in difficult times. He was a doctor, he was making money, and
he was doing reasonably well.
In the late 1930s, probably around 1937, just a few years after I was
born, the family moved to Grosse Pointe City. There are a whole string of
Grosse Pointes, and people think of Grosse Pointe as being a very wealthy
place, and there were some very wealthy people[. . .]. Edsel Ford was
building a place there when he died and it never got completed and that was
one of the fun things for young people to do, to explore that place. But in
general there were not very many wealthy people. There were certainly
upper middle class people, well-off people, and we were, I would say, up
until World War II, not among them. We were perfectly middle class. I’ve
gone back to Grosse Pointe after that and I looked at the neighborhood and it
was a very nice neighborhood but the houses were very small. Today there
are probably few doctors in the United States that live in houses as small as
our house was.
MR. STEINBACH: So you’ve gone back to Grosse Pointe City and looked at your childhood
MR. TERRIS: Yes, and I sort of remembered it not being too large, but when I saw it, I
really knew it wasn’t very large. My brother was born I think in 1936, my
sister in 1938. We had three bedrooms. My sister had the smallest. She
was, of course, by herself. The two brothers were together in one bedroom.
We had bunk beds, and if we had not had bunk beds, I think the beds would
essentially have occupied every square inch of the bedroom. And we had
one bathroom in the hall that [the whole family] used, and we had a kitchen
and quite a modest sized dining room and living room, and a nice sized
backyard. Not the way the suburbs are now, but a nice sized backyard.
About the size where you could play croquet.
MR. STEINBACH: What type of practice was your father in?
MR. TERRIS: My father did everything. I always have said to people he did everything but
brain surgery. He was a family practitioner, is what people would say today.
I don’t think they used that term then. He did obstetrics. He’d get up in the
middle of night and go to the hospital. He would do surgery. His usual
workday and week – I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll come back to this
because I don’t know what his work day and week was in the 1930s, I was
too young. But when we came back from the war, and I’ll explain about that
in a little bit, when we came back from the war in the 1940s, I know quite
well what his work week was.
MR. STEINBACH: He practiced throughout the whole time you were growing up?
MR. TERRIS: That’s correct.
MR. STEINBACH: Did your mother continue working as a nurse when she had children?
MR. TERRIS: No. She was completely at home. She was a tremendously devoted mother
and a fastidious home keeper. We also had help in the house. You would
think we wouldn’t need it for such a small house, but my mother was so
unbelievably fastidious. I used to joke, when I was a little older, of course,
that my mother had her hands out to catch the dust before it hit the floor. I
can remember constantly being chastised and even hit in the head for having
the drawers in the room pulled out and not put back into place. My mother
was a very careful housekeeper.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you recall whether your mother had formal schooling to become a nurse,
or did she have college education?
MR. TERRIS: No, she did not. And my father I think didn’t really have a college education.
I think he probably had some courses like that. They were not broadly
educated, but they were both smart and they both gradually absorbed an
education. Long before they died, they were people with quite an extensive,
what I would call an education, but it didn’t come from a college.
MR. STEINBACH: Your father’s a doctor, your mother’s a nurse. No pressure on you to become
something other than a lawyer?
MR. TERRIS: No. There was no pressure, but I wanted to become a doctor. I really had
this thought – now this was of course a little later when I was in junior high
school or maybe the beginning of senior high school – that I wanted to
become a doctor because I wanted to practice with him. I was enormously
close to my parents and I just thought that that would be the most wonderful
thing in the world. Unfortunately something happened. I believe it was in 9th
grade they had something called “career book” in which the students would
go out and they would research the subject that they wanted, the profession,
the job, or whatever they wanted to become. I was an enormously dedicated
student even at that age, so I wrote the whole history of medicine, but one of
the things I did besides going back to Galen and the Greeks and all those
kind of people is I went to see my father in his practice. So [I went to] see
him operate. Well I saw him operate, and one of the two operations he did
that morning was a goiter operation. A goiter operation is enormously
bloody. When that operation was over, I was finished [laughter]. I couldn’t
be a doctor anymore.
MR. STEINBACH: Did he know that at the time? Did he regret having brought you in that day?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think so. He didn’t really care that I become a doctor. He really
cared that I become somebody, but I never got the impression that I broke his
heart that I wasn’t going to practice medicine.
MR. STEINBACH: So you probably have no recollections of growing up in the first four years in
MR. TERRIS: No I really don’t. The one thing I do remember is we had rhubarb in our
backyard and I used to go out and eat it [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: What was your neighborhood like when you moved to Grosse Pointe City,
when you were growing up?
MR. TERRIS: There were all these small houses. It was just being developed, the portion of
Grosse Pointe that we were in. Many, many vacant lots. Quite near our
house, only a block or two from our house, was something called Snake
Woods. The children in the neighborhood, of which there were many, used
to troop over and thought it was quite exciting to go into Snake Woods.
There was enough room so you could play baseball on vacant lots. In the
beginning, when we were really small and couldn’t hit the ball very far, we
could play in our front yard, which wasn’t a very big front yard. Once we hit
a ball through the neighbor’s window. It was a very laidback neighborhood.
It was a totally, totally segregated neighborhood, but it wasn’t just segregated
between whites and blacks. There were restrictive covenants in Grosse
Pointe that barred Blacks, Italians, and Jews. I don’t know what happened
about the Jews in our case, but I assume the reason is that my name is not
Jewish, and at least my father did not look at all Jewish. My mother,
somebody might, if they were thinking about it, decide that she was Jewish,
but they probably wouldn’t have been thinking about it because they
probably would have thought that no Jew would even think about coming to
Grosse Pointe. Now the fact is there were not many Jews in the whole east
side of Detroit, so it wouldn’t have been in a real estate agent’s mind. To the
best of my knowledge, there were three Jewish families in Grosse Pointe out
of about 75,000 people in the 1950s. Since there were not that many people
in Grosse Pointe in the 1930s, the number of Jews would have been
MR. STEINBACH: So this is not a Jewish enclave in the Detroit area; just the opposite it sounds
MR. TERRIS: Jews were on the west side.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you know growing up that you, I guess, weren’t supposed to live there?
Did you know that as a child, and did that matter to your experiences?
MR. TERRIS: I doubt that I knew, but the question really relates to a lot of other things. I
certainly knew that the community wasn’t Jewish and that, for example, in
high school there was a Hi-Y club that had a Christian orientation to it. The
people in the neighborhood of course were going to church, observing
Christmas and all that kind of thing. I certainly knew I was different, but I
don’t think it really bothered me a great deal. My family was in many ways
very Jewish. I always used to joke, it wasn’t quite accurate, that my father
never said a sentence that he didn’t have a few Yiddish words in it. He did
that a lot. His friends and my mother’s friends were all Jewish. They were
from the west side of Detroit and they were very Jewish. We were almost
totally non-religious, almost totally. The only thing we did religiously was I
think most years we went to a Passover Seder, where interestingly enough
my father always presided. I don’t know whether he knew all the words or
not or what they meant, but he used to say the service at a speed that was
beyond the way a human voice can normally move. I can’t speak English at
the speed he could speak this Hebrew. I suspect he didn’t know what he was
saying, but I could be totally wrong. We also lit the Hanukkah candles, and
that was about it, until the time that I should have been bar mitzvahed, but I
wasn’t, and I was confirmed. My mother took me all the way across town
twice a week to get a very poor religious education from a Reform
synagogue. So they did care about it, but our home certainly [did not have] a
very religious atmosphere.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you grow up – by being Jewish in this community, as a very small
minority member I guess – did that ever affect you in your relationships with
your friends, or was that something that you ever had any experiences with
that stick in your mind at all?
MR. TERRIS: I never felt in the slightest bit discriminated against, treated in a different
way. Now I don’t know how many people knew I was Jewish. Certainly
some people did, but I think in the entire time that I lived in Grosse Pointe, I
can remember one anti-Semitic comment being made to me. If they didn’t
know I was Jewish, they wouldn’t have directed it particularly to me, but I
didn’t hear anti-Semitic comments. So no, I really was not affected in any
MR. STEINBACH: What was your elementary school like. Neighborhood school?
MR. TERRIS: Neighborhood school, about five or six blocks from my house.
MR. STEINBACH: Public school?
MR. TERRIS: Let me back up. I couldn’t speak until I was three. I’m almost sure that the
reason is I have a very poor ability to distinguish sound. I am horrible at
learning language. I got A’s in Spanish in high school and at Harvard. If
they ever taught those courses so that you had to speak or understand
Spanish, I would have gotten an F. But in those days they did it on paper. I
was in great shape. Occasionally they’d speak a little bit of Spanish in class,
and I understood none of it. And I’ve never been able to learn Hebrew,
although I’ve spent an enormous effort to do it, and never could learn to
speak it. I could read it a little bit but I couldn’t speak it and couldn’t
MR. STEINBACH: But you couldn’t even speak at all until you were three?
MR. TERRIS: I couldn’t speak. But in the meantime, my mother, who as I told you was
about the most devoted mother around, first carted me off to a neighborhood
nursery school, and then she found, I think at about age 2 – I don’t know
what to call it, nursery school wouldn’t be the right word – something called
the Merrill Palmer Institute, which was completely across the city and it was
I believe for gifted students. Don’t ask me how anyone would even know I
was a gifted student, particularly since I couldn’t say anything. My guess is
my mother and father were worried. So she used to spend, it must have been
three hours a day, taking me and then coming back and getting me at the end
of the day. And for the next couple of years, that’s where I spent my time. I
can remember very fondly what a challenging atmosphere it was. I don’t
remember the details of course, but I do have this remembrance of doing
puzzles and things like that.
So when I got to grammar school, Richard Grammar School is what it
was, I was quite far ahead of the other students, and much of the time I didn’t
spend in class. I spent time doing workbooks. Then they tried to deal with
it, my being ahead, I think it must have been around my second year. In
Grosse Pointe at the time, one group of students came in in September, and
another group of students came in February, so there were children in
September who were in the middle of the first year, middle of the 10th grade,
etc. They jumped me a half grade so in September, each year, I was in the
middle of the year, not the start of it. I guess I went to Richard up until the
time I was 9.
MR. STEINBACH: So this is before high school. You stayed at Richard all the way?
MR. TERRIS: No. Up until junior high school and then across the street from Richard was
Brownell Junior High School, but I didn’t start at Brownell because during
the war, almost the entire time, I was going to school at numerous schools all
over the United States.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay, let’s save that. Let’s focus on the years before the war starts, I
suppose, while you’re in grammar school equivalent.
MR. TERRIS: Up until age 9.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay. I’m going to start with your home life during that time period. What
was your family like? What were the evenings like? What did your parents
emphasize in values? However you want to tackle that.
MR. TERRIS: I remember all that very clearly for the period after the war.
MR. STEINBACH: Then generally, however you’d like to respond to that.
MR. TERRIS: Let me try to put the two together.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay.
MR. TERRIS: Before the war, my father’s practice struggled. A lot of people didn’t pay
MR. STEINBACH: This is the Depression decade?
MR. TERRIS: It’s during the Depression. The reason I know people didn’t pay him is
because after my father went in the Army, which we’ll talk about in a minute,
my mother got the assignment – my father was in Florida actually at the time
in training – and my mother got the job of going from patient to patient to try
to collect the bills that they owed my father, and I got the job of going with
her because I guess maybe it was seen as too dangerous for my mother to go
all by herself. So I know that there were lots of debts owed my father. After
the war, however, when my father came back from the Army, he built an
enormous practice, an enormous practice. His day really informed the rest of
our days, other than obviously I went to school and the other children went to
school. He’d be out of the house at about 7:00. In those days, he at least,
and I think doctors generally, made home calls. He would make home calls
for a while. At least two or three days a week he would go to the hospital,
both visit patients, and do one or two surgeries a day. Later in the day,
probably around noon or something, he’d start on his office hours. He would
see an enormous number of people, probably 40 or 50.
MR. STEINBACH: Was it still mostly auto workers at that point?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. Same practice. He’d come home at 5:00 sharp. Dinner. Everybody’s
to be there at dinner. We’d have dinner for about an hour, he would then go
back to the office until about 8:00 or 9:00, and he’d make more home calls.
So I probably wouldn’t see him again that day, maybe if I stayed up
particularly late doing studying or something I might, but otherwise I
wouldn’t. Then on Saturdays he’d work half a day – sometimes we did
things like go to the University of Michigan football games or do something
else together. Often I went with him on his house calls on Saturday and
Sunday. He made house calls on Sunday. Not all day by any means, but
probably a couple hours. And that was what he did during the week. His
interests were he read medical magazines and he played the stock market.
That was his great challenge, to play the stock market. Because now he was
making money and he had something to invest.
I left out something about my mother that I think would tell you
something about how careful she was at bringing us up. Every day in the
morning, all the way through high school to the day I went off to Harvard,
we’d line up, we’d have breakfast. We’d have a full, enormously healthy
breakfast. Every meal was enormously healthy. We would then line up and
the three children would be given a dose of cod liver oil. Every single
morning until I went to college.
MR. STEINBACH: And you did the same with your kids?
MR. TERRIS: No [laughter]. If I tried that with my kids, they’d run away from home.
MR. STEINBACH: So when you had these family dinners promptly at 5:00 – discussions? I
guess you did it up until age 9, but then after the war you’d be 13 to 17 until
you go off to college.
MR. TERRIS: I think we had a lot of discussions. Starting at least when I was 11, I would
say, I started reading the newspapers quite thoroughly. I also started reading
– this may have been a little older than that but not much older – books about
anti-Semitism in the United States. I’ve forgotten his initials, but [Gerald
L.K.] Smith. There was a very famous anti-Semite. Father [Charles]
Coughlin, worked out of Royal Oak, Michigan, so I read books about all that
and what have you. I know that there were discussions at the table. My
parents were certainly intelligent people, and so, yes, I think we had a fair
amount of that. I remember, for example, when I was in, I believe it was in
9th grade, that I did a big project on the Yalta Conference, and again I
probably overdid it. I used to go downtown regularly and not only take the
clippings from the Detroit News and Free Press but clippings from all over
the country that were on the Yalta Conference.
MR. STEINBACH: Then that would have been in high school, right?
MR. TERRIS: It would have been around 9th grade. It could have been 10th, because let me
think, Yalta was 1945 so I was only 12 years old, so it was probably 8th grade
MR. STEINBACH: Before we start on the war, the 1930s was obviously the decade of the
Depression, although by the end of the 1930s you’re only 6 or 7. You
probably don’t have a personal sense of that.
MR. TERRIS: My family did not seem to be operating on the basis of the Depression. My
father may have worried about it. Sometimes he would be paid in eggs or
things like that, so I’m sure he was worried, but at home there was no reason
for me to be, that I felt anything like that. I did not feel as a little kid that
anything was being denied me.
MR. STEINBACH: So Pearl Harbor happens when you’re probably 8 years old. Do you have
any recollection of worrying that a war might come prior to that?
MR. TERRIS: No, not prior to it, but I can remember the exact moment that I heard about it.
I was at my maternal grandparents, who lived in Detroit at that time, and I
can remember this old radio – I guess it probably wasn’t old then but it was
one of these things that kind of looked like a looped top that sits on the floor
– and hearing Franklin Roosevelt’s speech, the great speech of Franklin
Roosevelt about [Pearl Harbor] being attacked. Of course I couldn’t
comprehend quite what that effect was going to be on me and my family, but
obviously I could feel the enormous tension in our room together and of
course in Franklin Roosevelt’s speech.
MR. STEINBACH: How did your dad get involved in the Army or whatever he actually did
during the war? Was that an aftermath of Pearl Harbor?
MR. TERRIS: Yes.
MR. STEINBACH: What happened?
MR. TERRIS: He never would have been drafted. He was 40 years old, and I believe that
the draft age for doctors was 40. In other words, below 40 they would be
drafted. He joined the Army I believe in December 1942 and he was 40 at
that time. From a selfish point of view, going into the Army was crazy.
Now he really had the opportunity for the first time in his life to make a
substantial amount of money. Lots of doctors were leaving. He could have
had a tremendous practice. People were flocking to Detroit, factory workers
were getting paid far more money than they used to, all that kind of thing.
He felt an enormous debt to the United States, an enormous debt. I don’t
know how much he knew about his family’s situation in Russia, but he felt
this enormous debt, and it was increased by the kind of feeling that he and a
lot of other Jews had about Franklin Roosevelt and that this country was
fundamentally not anti-Semitic and that this was just a marvelous thing for
Jews like him to have a fair chance. So he joined the Army, and he was
assigned and had his early training in Florida.
MR. STEINBACH: And you stayed in Michigan while he went to Florida?
MR. TERRIS: For about a month we stayed in Michigan, then the rest of the family got on a
train and we went down to Florida. Now I didn’t go to school – I think he
was in Florida for only about a month or two more. I didn’t go to school in
Florida, nor did my brother. My family got the two of us – my brother was
three years younger than I am – got us Army uniforms and the units that were
in Florida used to march around Miami Beach. They were in Miami Beach
in the fanciest hotels probably in the United States. I don’t know if they were
fancy when the Army took them over, but they were inherently a very fancy
place, and these units would march around the streets in cadence, all the
commands, left, right, all that kind of stuff, and we would go out in the street
with our Army uniforms and salute them. We would walk from block to
block, there were no cars on the street, there were only these units marching
around, and these two punk kids were out there saluting them. That’s my
recollection of that. From that point on, we went place to place with my
father until the middle of 1945 when the war ended.
We went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which I can still remember is the
coldest place I can remember in my life. It was probably February of 1943,
and we went to other places; I don’t know the sequence, it’s probably not
important anyway. We went to Kalamazoo, Michigan; we went to LaCrosse,
Wisconsin; we went to Takoma, Washington; we went to Elsinore,
California; we went to San Francisco, California. I think that we went to all
of them, and I went to about ten schools. One of them I went to for one day,
one for three days, and others for a year.
MR. STEINBACH: This was because the Army was constantly reassigning your father to be the
medical doctor for trainees or recruits all over the country?
MR. TERRIS: All kinds of people. And he also made matters a little worse because when
my father saw things that he thought were not appropriate, he protested.
When he protested, he got transferred. I can remember in LaCrosse,
Wisconsin, they had him and some other people training by crawling over the
ground while there was live machine gun fire over them. A soldier fairly
close to him got killed, and another soldier was wounded. My father had
some things to say about that, and before long we were not in LaCrosse,
MR. STEINBACH: So from your perspective, was this fun and exciting to move from place to
place, or very difficult because you were constantly changing schools and
losing friends, or what was it like?
MR. TERRIS: I think exciting probably would be closer to it. First of all, I was with my
family. My mother was spending full time taking care of the children. My
father lived with us so it wasn’t like the family was broken up. I did well in
school, so it really wasn’t that hard. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, I think I was
there only about ten days and I won the spelling bee in the school. I got a
promotion for another half year beyond where I was because one of the
schools, I’m not sure which one, didn’t have half grades like we had in
Grosse Pointe, so they either had to put me back or put me forward, so I got
put forward another half grade. That’s why I ended up graduating from both
high school and college very young. It was fun, and it was fun to go to
different places. I mean San Francisco, when we ended up there, was terrific.
For a few months – we lived downtown before our apartment got completed,
it was under construction – I sold newspapers on the cable cars. I’d get on
the cable car, sold some newspapers, and the cable car would go down a half
mile, and then I’d get off and get on another cable car coming back. For a
young kid, this was pretty exciting, so I loved it. It probably did me a lot of
good and I learned an enormous amount about the United States. We always
drove, except for that first trip to Florida, and we went to all kinds of places
that I’d never see at that age.
MR. STEINBACH: That’s fascinating. I think you told me it was around this time you started to
read the newspaper and follow current events.
MR. TERRIS: I followed the war particularly. I followed the war across the Pacific, from
island to island, I followed the war in Russia. I read the newspaper quite
MR. STEINBACH: Recollections about what it was like to grow up during the war? Do you
remember anything changing besides the fact that you’re moving from place
to place? Did it affect your daily life, your family?
MR. TERRIS: My mother was such a tremendous home keeper. She really prevented
probably any of the stresses that you would say to yourself it must’ve been
stressful to do this or this, but it really wasn’t. It really wasn’t. And some of
it was actually almost luxurious. I forgot that another place we were at was
Fresno, California, at Hammer Field. My father was an officer, a medical
officer, and we spent the whole summer at the Officer’s Club swimming
pool. For kids, you can’t beat that [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever worry that we might not win the war?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think so. But, of course, at that age I wasn’t too acute. I mean
certainly at the time of Pearl Harbor, there was reason to be worried. I might
have had a little bit of worry because I was reading the newspaper soon after
that and certainly there were things in the newspaper that weren’t going so
well. I can remember reading about the German campaign being quite
successful in the Soviet Union. So I think I had some worry, but not enough
so you could say this was really having a significant impact on me.
MR. STEINBACH: Is this before you wrote your report in 9th grade on medicine?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, that was back in Grosse Pointe. So was the Yalta conference report.
MR. STEINBACH: Did any of the war experience or your involvement in life in the Army as a
child in any way sort of make you want to pursue some sort of public service
MR. TERRIS: I don’t think at that time I really had gotten to that point. I think the closest I
was getting to that point was when I was in high school, once I began to
develop actual political attitudes.
MR. STEINBACH: Recollections of Franklin Roosevelt as President?
MR. TERRIS: My family was enormously supportive of him for the reasons I said before. I
can remember, we did come back to Grosse Pointe a few times for relatively
short periods, and I can remember in 1944 that there was a straw poll in
Richard Grammar School . . . between Dewey and Roosevelt. The vote for
Dewey was 7 to 1. That vote tells you a lot about Grosse Pointe. I was
among the one. My family was Democratic, and I became even more to the
left when I was in high school, but I didn’t have discussions with people in
Grosse Pointe about my political views [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: You must remember the excitement when the war ended.
MR. TERRIS: Yes. We were coming home. It had the same excitement as everybody else
in the country, plus it meant we were going home. My father, of course, was
very excited, he was going to resume his practice. One interesting thing
about what happened during the war is we spent, as I indicated to you, we
spent much of the war in different places in California, and my father decided
that he probably wanted to come back to California. This was a very difficult
thing to do because half of the doctors in the Army who had been in
California had the same idea, and so they were giving oral exams [to get a
California license] and passing almost nobody. The doctors in California
were not looking forward to thousands of additional doctors pouring into the
state. My father was one of the very, very few who passed, and the question
he thinks determined it was, “What was Rocky Mountain spotted fever?”
Don’t ask me how he knew that. He had never practiced in the Rocky
Mountains, but he knew a lot of medicine, and he got it right.
MR. STEINBACH: So you had just turned 12 a few days before the war against Japan ended in
1945. Your family goes back to Grosse Pointe. Your father resumes his
MR. TERRIS: And we went back to the same house. We had never given up the house.
MR. STEINBACH: Who took care of his practice while he was away?
MR. TERRIS: Nobody. It was gone.
MR. STEINBACH: So he managed to get many of the same families to come back?
MR. TERRIS: He came back in the first instance to be a very junior partner with a doctor
who had a practice. Fairly soon, he went out and started a practice by
himself. He had a tremendous bedside manner. The proof of this wasn’t
really Detroit, because there he had people who knew him, but when he went
to California years later, in 1954, he built another practice almost instantly.
All he had to do was put a sign up and the first person came in, that person
would tell everybody in the world. So he had an enormous practice.
MR. STEINBACH: So you return, as I said, when you’re about 12. Can I ask you before you we
go further, do you have any recollections of the atomic bombing at the end of
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I can remember that and how completely puzzling that was. Probably
to almost anybody it must have seemed like an overwhelming thing – what is
this kind of thing? For a child of my age, that’s what I can remember, what
does that mean that there’s a bomb that wipes out a whole city? What is this?
And then, of course, some thoughts about the moral – not in any tremendous
depth, I don’t want to pretend about that – this incredible number of people
MR. STEINBACH: Obviously we all look backwards knowing about the Cold War. When the
war ends, do you think all is going to be well, or are you and your family
already sort of worried about future relationships with the Soviet Union?
MR. TERRIS: I’m a Leftist at this point. I’m not a Communist, but I’m a Leftist. I took –
you probably know because you’re a historian – there was a newspaper
called PM. I took that – and when I say I took that, I literally mean I, not my
family because they didn’t particularly read it – and at least for part of the
time when I was in high school I took it. There was a teacher in high school
who had the same sort of ideas who became to some degree kind of my
mentor, so at least part of high school I was very into that kind of thing, so
there certainly was a period there where I was very sympathetic to the
Soviet Union and wasn’t worried. I don’t know when that changed.
MR. STEINBACH: How does someone who grows up in a town that is 7 to 1 in favor of Dewey
end up, in high school, no less, becoming a “Leftist”?
MR. TERRIS: The mentor probably had something to do with it, but I also think that I have
an innate skepticism, to a certain degree, [a sense] of rebellion. I think some
of those characteristics are very Jewish characteristics, so my being at least
ostensibly Jewish, and in a real way culturally Jewish, because my family
was really culturally Jewish.
MR. STEINBACH: Let’s focus on your high school years, which I think would be about 1946 to
1950, approximately? Since you’re in the college class of 1954.
MR. TERRIS: That’s right.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell me the name of your high school, where it was, what you remember.
MR. TERRIS: It was Grosse Pointe High School. Brownell was across the street from
Richard, and Grosse Pointe High School was next to Brownell, so it was all
one big complex. It was a very good high school, public. The upper middle
class kids in Grosse Pointe went to private schools. At that time I think my
father probably had the money to pay for me to go, but it would have never
crossed his mind. And my brother never went to private school. My sister
did, but that’s because she got herself into a little bit of trouble so my parents
thought that getting her out of town, nothing really terribly serious, but from
my parent’s point of view, it was trouble. It was a very good school, and it
was really pretty uneventful. I was the sports editor for the school newspaper
for a semester. I played tennis. I got on a very good tennis team that when I
was there it had won something like 250 out of 251 dual matches, won every
dual match the year I was there. I came close but didn’t beat the second
ranking tennis player in Michigan. I was nowhere near as good as that
suggests, but I had a good day, almost a really good day. I had been
appointed by somebody, I don’t know who did that, to be the chief justice of
the supreme court of the school. It was supposed to deal with honor issues.
My recollection is there were very, very few [issues] that I dealt with. I got
very good grades. I was second in my class, and I was tied for first until the
last semester. Never could deal really with literature courses [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: What did you excel at?
MR. TERRIS: I think I was probably just pretty good at everything. There was certainly, I
can remember in mathematics there was a guy who was better than I was and
really was a wiz at it, but it wasn’t that difficult for me to get A’s, and so I
got all A’s except for one. It was a pretty uneventful high school career.
MR. STEINBACH: What did you do in the summers?
MR. TERRIS: When I was younger, I went to camp I think for a few weeks for at least
several of the summers. When my father was in the Army, nothing happened
except for that one glorious summer at the Officer’s Club swimming pool.
During high school, I believe one of the summers, I think this was when I
was in high school, I got the assignment of re-painting the white picket fence
in our back yard, and I painted it at the speed that Rembrandt would have
done it. I was so careful with the painting I was doing that it took almost the
whole summer. My parents were not overjoyed by that.
In 1946, I spent much of the summer after school let out by getting on
the, I believe it was the trolley. Detroit was only one block from our house
and so I walked up there, got on a trolley, went down to Briggs Stadium, and
saw virtually every home game because my hero, Hank Greenberg, was there
that year. Unfortunately, they traded him after that year, and I never quite
fully forgave them. I think other summers I really don’t know exactly what I
did. I went to the lake which was about a mile from the house and swam
some days. Certainly near the end of my high school time, I spent a lot of
time playing tennis. One summer I won the junior championship for
Grosse Pointe. Probably a lot of people would say I goofed around
MR. STEINBACH: You graduated from high school, do you remember what year?
MR. TERRIS: 1950.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you know at that point or think what you might want to be when you had
MR. TERRIS: I thought about going to law school. People then, children then, knew so
much less than they know today and have done so much less thinking about it
than today. It’s just amazing. I didn’t know anything about colleges. I
really didn’t know anything about what kind of work [I wanted] to do. The
reason I say I may have thought about law is I wasn’t going to be a doctor –
so it was almost like, and I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous, what else is
there to do? It’s a profession. I didn’t really think about teaching. Maybe I
should have, but I didn’t. And I almost didn’t have any idea in my head what
I was going to do. I knew I wasn’t going to be a carpenter. I was a complete
klutz with my hands. So vaguely law was something I was thinking about.
MR. STEINBACH: How did you end up at Harvard College?
MR. TERRIS: That supports the point I just made almost in spades. I was going to the
University of Michigan; that’s the only college I applied to. I had gotten in.
Virtually every student in my high school who had grades above a certain
level went to the University of Michigan. If you got grades a little below
that, you went to Michigan State. If you got grades a little below that, you
went to Kalamazoo or Albion or Wayne. Nobody went east to school. There
might have been a couple of people going to school in Ohio. That was really
being adventuresome, going some distance. I think I calculated there were
three people, other than myself, that went to school in the east. From the
private schools, they were all going east, but in the public high school, the
only people that went east were people whose families were the occasional
family in high school that were upper middle class. Other than that, nobody
was going east. One guy went to Harvard. They recruited him to play
football. So it never even dawned on me.
There was a patient of my father’s – it’s kind of interesting I still
remember his name because I probably saw him only two or three times in
my life – his name was George Cobb. He was a rare patient for my father –
he was an engineer. My father always did a lot of bragging about his
children in between talking to his patients about their medical problems.
And I’m sure he bragged to George Cobb that I was doing well in school, and
George Cobb said, “Well, if your son’s doing so well in school, the best
school – this guy had gone to Cornell – the best school in the country is
Harvard, so why doesn’t your son go to Harvard?” It never dawned on my
father either that his son go to Harvard. So my father came home and said,
“George Cobb said that Harvard is the best school in the country. You have
good grades, why don’t you go to Harvard?” Well I took the College Boards
and I got, I think, in the top 1%, and I applied to Harvard. It was also the
only other school I applied to. And I got in. So I went to Harvard [laughter].
I had never been there, and knew nothing about it other than George Cobb.
MR. STEINBACH: You accepted without having gone there, and the first time you visited is
when you showed up as a freshman?
MR. TERRIS: My father and mother drove me there, dumped me off, and that was that.
MR. STEINBACH: Describe, I guess, your college experience. Let’s start that generally, and
we’ll go from there.
MR. TERRIS: First of all, half of the Harvard class at that time – I’m not really sure if I
have it right – I believe half the class had gone to eastern prep schools, and
there were of course many, many other students who had also gone to private
schools beyond that. The number of public school students was very low. I
think there were 100 people in my class of roughly 1,100 from Exeter and
100 from Andover. That’s where Harvard got its students. And of course
from the moment I got there I thought to myself to some degree, I’m really
kind of over my head. These people seem to know so much more than I
know. I had been to a very good high school, but in comparison, it seemed
like they knew everything and I hardly knew anything. I came there with the
attitude, I was not going to do that well. I don’t mean to say I was going to
flunk, but if I were in the middle of the class, that would be perfectly good.
After all, it’s been said to be the best school in the country, so if I got in the
middle, that would be good. So I started and I can remember one class –
about the greatest books. John Finley, a great classicist, taught in Sanders
Theatre, this enormous place with probably 500 students sitting there, and he
lectured on The Iliad, The Odyssey, the Aeneid, Dante, Milton. That was it.
The next semester, now I’ve gone blank on the teacher [Thornton Wilder],
which is really bad, but you’ll know immediately because he was a visiting
professor and he was the author of Our Town. We read Don Quixote, War
and Peace, Great Expectations, The Red and the Black, and Our Town. That
was just an overwhelming course. I had read War and Peace before because
I had done a paper in my senior year in high school on War and Peace, Anna
Karenina, and Resurrection, the third novel of Tolstoy, which had gotten a B
MR. STEINBACH: In high school?
MR. TERRIS: In high school. And I got a B in this course too, in literature again [laughter].
And in my first year at Harvard I took a political science course and I took
Spanish and a course in writing in which they were attempting to improve
my writing. I had almost no extracurricular activities at Harvard. I just
worked harder than anybody at Harvard. Nobody has ever out-worked me in
school, I can tell you that. There have people that have worked as hard, but
nobody has out-worked me. And that’s why I got good grades, not whatever
is in my head. To show you the extremes of this, I took a political science
course, Political Theory, starting with Aristotle and Plato and running up to
date. [The book for the course had excerpts from the great thinkers.] At the
beginning, I thought – this seems so incredible that I would’ve ever thought
this – [. . .] I said to myself, “well I have to really work hard at this so I’m
going to read the whole book” [laughter]. Well there are only about twenty
pages from Plato or Aristotle or what have you in the textbook. In a couple
months I had to give that up. That was impossible. I think what happened is
the excerpts started getting shorter and shorter and the books [longer and
longer]. So I surprised myself and I did better than I thought I would the first
year. I got half A’s and half B’s, and then the second year, except for one
half course, that was the only B I got, and that came from – I’ll never forget
this to this day – taking calculus, and it was a three-hour exam and I was
finished in an hour, but I could not get one problem [laughter]. I just simply
could not get one problem.
MR. STEINBACH: I’m sorry this process is bringing back bad memories [laughter].
MR. TERRIS: I died that I couldn’t get one problem. I got a B. From that point on, all my
grades at Harvard were A’s. My experience there, I worked enormously
hard, I had a small group of very close friends, they expanded my horizons
very, very substantially. Just one small indication, they loved to go to good
movies, so I went with them. I probably saw every good English movie that
came out during those years. Alec Guinness and all the rest of them. Then
my junior year, instead of taking four courses I took five because I wanted to
take three my last year so I could write my thesis. I really didn’t have any
idea what I wanted to write it on.
MR. STEINBACH: Tell us what you decided to major in.
MR. TERRIS: I majored in History, with particular attention to American. I also took
European History and also took Chinese and Japanese History. I took
American History, with unbelievably good professors. The two Schlesingers
[Arthur Sr. and Arthur Jr.], [Oscar] Handlin, who was an expert on
immigration, and Frederick Merk, who was an expert on the Westward
Movement. Those lectures were just wonderful. I took Economics, basic
economics, which I’m certainly glad I did. I took Constitutional Law from a
historical point of view, not of course the way a law school would teach it.
Those were probably most of the courses I took.
The mentor for my thesis was Sydney Ahlstrom, a very young man at
the time who later became a foremost authority on American Protestantism.
He’s the one who suggested that I write my thesis on the foreign policy views
of Charles Beard. I put an enormous amount into this thesis. I rented an
apartment – it wasn’t really an apartment, it was one room – and I used to go
there every afternoon. I’d go to class in the morning, go to the apartment in
the afternoon, and come back to the library and study for my classes in the
evening. I read I believe everything that Beard ever wrote, and he wrote a
lot. My trouble was, and I’ve always had this trouble, trying to be too
comprehensive, and there was a limit on how long your thesis should be. It
became apparent that I was going to exceed it, and so I had to change the
thesis title to the Foreign Policy Views of Charles Beard Prior to
World War II. I finished the thesis, and there was a three-person oral exam
in which [Samuel] Huntington was on it and the younger Schlesinger, and
I’ve forgotten the third person. I was so stressed. I can remember the most
stupid answer that I gave because they asked me – and why I couldn’t have
anticipated this I don’t know – what was my favorite American novel. Well I
was exceedingly poorly read, as I’ve said to you before about how bad I was
at literature anyway, that the only novel whose name came to my mind was
Moby Dick. The most standard answer that anybody could ever possibly
give. Anyway, that’s my recollection of that oral examination.
Before that I had become a member of senior Phi Beta Kappa, which
means that after the group of the first eight, I was in the 16 after the first
eight, which was based entirely on my grades, and this was not going to
mean what my honors were going to be. And the question was whether I
would get a summa. I went home after my final exams and had an operation
for a polynoidal cyst, and as I was coming out of my anesthetic, my mother
was standing there, and she said to me, “You got a summa!”
MR. STEINBACH: That was a nice recovery [laughter]. That’s great. Other college memories?
MR. TERRIS: As I say, I did very little on an extracurricular basis. I tried out for the
freshman tennis team. I didn’t make it. I really wasn’t even close to those
other guys. I learned to play squash, which I could play reasonably well, but
unfortunately I haven’t played since. I enjoyed school really a lot.
MR. STEINBACH: Did the Korean War affect your college experience in any way?
MR. TERRIS: Not really. I had an exemption, and after the war it was possible I would be
drafted. It turned out they didn’t draft me because of my eyesight. But no. I
paid attention to it. The bigger thing during college was McCarthyism.
MR. STEINBACH: Good, I was going to ask you about that.
MR. TERRIS: That certainly was a big thing among my small group of friends. At that
point I think, as I said to you before, some of my political views were based
on rebellion. Since everybody that I was dealing with were liberal
Democrats, I became a moderate Republican [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: Fascinating.
MR. TERRIS: I didn’t defend McCarthyism, but the very fact that I wasn’t screaming in the
halls about it – I can remember the hearings and all that kind of stuff; it was
constantly being talked about – the very fact that I hadn’t gone berserk about
it made me seem to be a fascist to my colleagues. That was probably the big
political event. The interesting thing was that I was enough of a moderate
Republican – it’s kind of interesting compared to what happened later when I
got out of college, got out of law school. I for a brief period of time did some
work for John Kennedy’s opponent in the Senate race [in 1952] who I
believe, I’m not sure of this, was [Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.]. But that
shows you how much of a rebel I am [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: So you had some political activity in college.
MR. TERRIS: Very minor.
MR. STEINBACH: Right before you graduated, I guess, the Brown v. Board of Education [347
U.S. 483 (1954)] decision came down. Do you remember that at all?
MR. TERRIS: I remember it, but I’m not sure exactly, I can’t even remember the date in
comparison to my graduation. My graduation was, of course in college was
1954, so it’s got to be the same time. It could have been after I graduated.
MR. STEINBACH: It was in May I think of 1954.
MR. TERRIS: We weren’t lawyers. Most of us didn’t even care about being lawyers.
MR. STEINBACH: When was the [Lodge]-Kennedy election?
MR. TERRIS: I think it was relatively early after I came to Harvard. It might have even
been 1950, right after I came.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you ever tell Bobby Kennedy that you did that?
MR. TERRIS: No [laughter]. He might have thrown me out.
MR. STEINBACH: If you have the indulgence, let’s take you from college to law school. When
did you first start thinking about law school as somewhat of a certainty?
MR. TERRIS: I don’t know if it was a certainty, but at the time when I took the
Constitutional Law course, that was the reason for taking it.
MR. STEINBACH: Do you remember who taught that?
MR. TERRIS: [Robert McCloskey.]
MR. STEINBACH: But that was part of planting the seed that maybe you’d be interested in law?
MR. TERRIS: The course wasn’t really a good test because there’s a huge difference
between constitutional law as a historical phenomenon and constitutional law
as a lawyer. But I was interested in the course, and I thought it was
something of a decent test.
MR. STEINBACH: So you decided to apply to law school. You went straight through from
college to law school?
MR. TERRIS: Exactly.
MR. STEINBACH: So you would have had to have applied during your last year or two of
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: What took you to Harvard Law School?
MR. TERRIS: I never even thought of any other place. I knew it was an awfully good law
school. I knew Cambridge, and I liked Cambridge. The details of trying to
find a place to live, to have somebody to live with, all those kinds of things
would be much easier. It never even occurred to me to go anywhere else.
MR. STEINBACH: Before you started Harvard Law School, did you have any sense what you
might do with a law degree?
MR. TERRIS: That’s kind of a hard question. I don’t think I really thought I was going to
go into a big law firm, but again I knew almost nothing. It seems amazing
today, everybody knows so much. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the
structure of the law world in any real sense – how big law firms, smaller law
firms, government operate – I knew almost nothing about that kind of thing,
so I didn’t think in any kind of detail, even moderate detail, about what I was
going to do. I was going to become a lawyer and then I’d figure it out.
MR. STEINBACH: So Harvard Law School, from 1954 to 1957 – give us an overview from a
very sort of high level of your experience there.
MR. TERRIS: Again, maybe even more than when I went to college, you’d think I was
tremendously confident, I had done well at Harvard College. I wasn’t.
Before classes started the first year, there was a meeting of all the first-year
students. The Dean loved to say at this meeting before classes started, [. . .]
look to the left of you and look to the right of you, two of the three of you are
not going to be here at the end of this year [laughter]. He then said, that isn’t
quite the way it is anymore. In any event, I was quite scared, am I going to
be able to do decently? I guess I thought I wouldn’t be a dropout or fail.
When I went to Harvard Law School – and I’m still a tremendous believer in
the Socratic method; I’ve taught a year at law school – almost everybody
taught the Socratic method. That, for somebody like me, was enormously
stressful. I think probably to everybody, but it was very stressful. You say to
yourself, “They’re not telling me anything. What are the rules? What are the
principles? What are all these questions?” And never an answer. Very
frightening. The great master of this, Warren Seavey, taught me Agency.
Most of the other people too, Professor [Benjamin] Kaplan was probably the
greatest professor I ever had. It was just very difficult to put your arms
around it and say, “I understand. I’ve got this.”
Then in the middle of the first year they had practice exams which were
graded by second-year law students. I was very mediocre. I never
volunteered in class. It seems strange, isn’t it, I’m a litigator for 50-odd
years, and I’m basically an introverted person, and I never volunteered. My
first year, they had you sit in particular seats so they could call on you, and
they went around the room systematically so I had to answer. After that, I
never sat in my assigned seat, I always sat in the back. I think it may be true
that I never said a word in class my second and third years. I won’t swear to
that, but that may be true. So I went through the year, I studied enormously
hard, as I said before, nobody ever out-worked me, took the exams, studied
very hard for the exams, went back to California, my family had moved there
– we haven’t come to that yet. My family moved in 1954 when I graduated
from college. My father set up his new medical practice. I found out my
grades, which were very close to the top of the class, and then I found out
that I had been elected to the Harvard Law Review. So that of course
changed the world considerably.
The second year, I didn’t do quite as well on the midterms. I did well
enough, but not quite as well. And then in the end of May or June, whenever
the exams were, I essentially physically collapsed, undoubtedly from the
strain of the work. I used to go to class in the morning, I’d then go to the
Law Review from probably 1:00 after eating lunch and stay there to 9:00 in
the evening, except for eating dinner, and then I would work from 9:00 to
1:00 or 2:00 in the morning on my classwork. And I did that every single
day. Obviously the weekends I didn’t have class. I literally collapsed. At
the time when exams started, my father the good doctor, found me a doctor in
Boston who happened to be a Nobel Prize winner. I went into Peter Bent
Brigham Hospital, and there I was lying for the next couple of weeks during
exams and the Vice Dean (many jokes about the term “Vice Dean”)
Livingston Hall came to visit me to make sure that I was really not faking
[laughter]. They didn’t require me to take the exams over again – I think
believing that since I had done so well the first year that maybe there was a
possibility that I really was sick [laughter]. So I went back to California and
immediately my temperature went to 105. So I did have something very
MR. STEINBACH: Do you know what it was?
MR. TERRIS: There was some talk that it was hepatitis. I don’t think probably that was
what it ended up. It was some virus.
MR. STEINBACH: This is the end of your second year?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. The end of my second year. I had forgotten, I had been elected to
Article Editor of the Law Review in the spring, so I had to come back to
Harvard for the Law Review early to start work on putting out the initial
editions. I worked very hard during my third year too. Fortunately I did not
get sick. My grades were approximately the same. I think they went down a
couple of places in the class. But I enjoyed Harvard Law School, even
though I was working tremendously hard. I found it fascinating, challenging.
I found the Law Review enormously challenging. The work on my case note
and the broader note taught me an enormous amount about writing, going
over every single word. I mean, the number of hours that we spent going
over my note that ended up I think being six pages of the Law Review, we
probably spent 20 to 30 hours going over it. We took apart every sentence,
every word, “Why did you do this, why is this word here, why did you
choose this word not that?” It was done, when I was a second-year student, a
third-year student working with me on it.
MR. STEINBACH: What was the topic?
MR. TERRIS: It was a totally dull, horrible topic. I can’t even remember what it was
exactly. It was a terrible topic, as to which I had no choice. They were
assigned. So that’s pretty much how law school ended.
MR. STEINBACH: Any other memorable professors? You mentioned Professor Seavey and
Professor Kaplan. Did you take Archibald Cox?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. I had him as a teacher in Labor Law. There were a lot of awfully good
professors. When they were electives, I tended to choose my courses by the
professor. I took all of Kaplan’s courses. I think I took Patent and
MR. STEINBACH: Just because he taught it?
MR. TERRIS: Because he taught it. And [Louis Loss], who had been head of the SEC. I
chose him because he was so good as a teacher. I didn’t care about securities
litigation. I had Paul Freund. I also had Henry Hart.
MR. STEINBACH: Was the Justice Department, Internal Security Division, is that the first job
you had out of law school?
MR. TERRIS: Yes it was, but before that, I was going to go to Cravath after my second
year. I don’t know why. I think I wanted to find out what big law firms were
like, but because I got sick, that got cancelled. Then my third year I decided
I wasn’t going to a big law firm. I tried to get a clerkship. Then, clerkships
in the Supreme Court were directly from law school. You didn’t go to a
Court of Appeals clerkship first. So I applied to two or three Supreme Court
Justices. Strangely enough I can’t even remember whether I had an
interview. I think I didn’t, but I’m not really sure. I also applied to about
three court of appeals judges, two or three, where I did have interviews.
These are the people I wanted, and I didn’t get those. I didn’t try to get
anything else. I wasn’t really that interested in a clerkship, but obviously a
Supreme Court clerkship is one thing, or a Judge David Bazelon clerkship, or
a Skelly Wright, that’s a different ballgame. But I wasn’t as such interested
in a clerkship. It’s not surprising that I didn’t get the ones where I had
interviews. I graduated from [high school] when I was 16. I graduated from
law school when I was 23, and I was a basically fairly immature 16 and 23.
There would be a lot of people coming out of Harvard Law School who
would have done a lot better than I would. So despite my having good
grades, and of course other people would have good grades too, it wasn’t
terribly surprising. I was only interested in coming to Washington. The
young woman who I was interested in had come here, so whether I would’ve
come to Washington otherwise, I’m not sure. It’s conceivable I wouldn’t
have. It’s conceivable I would have gone to San Francisco. But there of
course there was no obvious place to go unless it was a big law firm, and I
wasn’t that interested at the time.
MR. STEINBACH: I think we should save for next time your starting in the Internal Security
Division of the Justice Department. I just wondered if there was any
employment you had after law school before you entered the Justice
MR. TERRIS: No. I can tell you why I ended up there and we can go on next time. The
Justice Department, and they may still have this, had something called the
Honors Program. Obviously it’s intended to attract people who had done
reasonably well in law school, so I decided that I did want to go to the
Department of Justice and I wanted to deal with constitutional-type issues.
There was no such thing as a Civil Rights Division then. It was a section of
the Civil Division, and if you went to the Civil Division, you couldn’t be
guaranteed you’d go to the Civil Rights Division. I didn’t want to go to the
Civil Division if it wasn’t the Civil Rights Division, so I decided – and there
have been a lot of comments about this over my career since then – I chose to
go to the Internal Security Division, which did deal indeed with
constitutional issues [laughter].
MR. STEINBACH: That will be fascinating to explore next time. Can we do just one other area
very tangentially? Maybe we’ll come back to this, but since this is the part in
the oral history that’s focused on more of your personal family background,
can you tell me just briefly about your wife and your children, your family?
MR. TERRIS: Sure. First of all, I’ve had two wives. My first wife, Shirley DuVal, was a
Catholic, and a deep-seeded part of my personality I think is to be very
interested in religion. I’d actually gone out for a fair length of time with a
Catholic girl before I went out with Shirley. I met Shirley in law school, and
we got married a year after I came to Washington. I had become very deeply
immersed in Catholicism and I became a Catholic, and this caused an
enormous rupture with my father, who did not talk to me for two years, and
only because of my mother’s strenuous activities, we got back together, and
we did fully get back together. I was a practicing Roman Catholic through
all the time that my wife lived, and she died very suddenly from an aneurism.
Very suddenly. Within hours.
MR. STEINBACH: Did you have children at that point?
MR. TERRIS: Yes. We had three children. They were adopted. The two older are girls,
and the youngest is a boy. We lived here in Washington. We lived in
Crestwood, which is not a segregated community. Quite the opposite. The
children went to private schools. The oldest daughter went to where you
teach, Sidwell, for high school. I think she may have gone to public school
before then. I think that’s possible. I can’t actually remember exactly. The
next daughter went to a Catholic school, and the son went to Beauvoir and
then later went, after I returned to Judaism, went to Charles E. Smith, the
MR. STEINBACH: How old were your children when your first wife died?
MR. TERRIS: I thought I had it written down.
MR. STEINBACH: We can look and come back to this.
MR. TERRIS: The children – the oldest daughter was around 15, and the boy was I think
MR. STEINBACH: Then you subsequently remarried after your first wife’s death?
MR. TERRIS: Correct.
MR. STEINBACH: And your current wife’s name is?
MR. TERRIS: Sally Gillespie. She also is not Jewish, but she is not practicing anything,
and she’s the person that said, “If you’re a Jew – I had at that point stopped
being Catholic – if you’re supposedly a Jew, why don’t you do something
about it?” And that led to a whole sequence which we can talk about in more
detail because that’s a long story.
MR. STEINBACH: Okay. And tell me just quickly what your three children do today.
MR. TERRIS: My daughter went through nursing school and became a midwife and now
works for an insurance company in managing difficult medical cases. In
other words, what kind of care they get so that they get good care and also I
guess don’t bleed the insurance company. I suspect that’s how it would be
The second daughter doesn’t work. She did work as a secretary in a
Jewish school. Her husband is a patent draftsman. The children are scattered
all over the place. The oldest daughter is in San Diego. My second daughter
is in Seattle.
My son is in Berkeley. He, I suppose in some way influenced by me, went
to law school and he graduated from Berkeley. He had graduated from
Hebrew University as an undergraduate, and then he went through Berkeley,
went into a private law firm, which he detested, and then decided he was
going to be a therapist, so he is now a therapist, which he loves. So that’s
what the three of them do.
Sally Gillespie has a daughter named Sally Phillips, and she is a fairly
senior official in the Department of the Treasury. She runs a unit there. She
was deeply involved in the bailouts of the banks over the last few years. So
except for my second daughter, all of them have a lot of education. The
daughter of Sally Gillespie, who I regard fully as my daughter, because she
came to live with us when she was still a teenager, she has an MBA degree,
and my son has [law and therapy degrees]. My oldest daughter has a nursing
degree from Case Western.
MR. STEINBACH: I guess I should ask you about your current wife’s profession or career.
MR. TERRIS: The reason I got to know her is she was the office manager of this office.
MR. STEINBACH: Your current law firm?
MR. TERRIS: Yes, this law firm.
MR. STEINBACH: Well why don’t we leave it for now, Bruce, and we’ll pick up next time with
you coming to Washington and joining the Eisenhower Justice Department,
and we’ll go from there through the Kennedy years and it should be quite
MR. TERRIS: Okay. I hope so.
MR. STEINBACH: Thank you so much.