Retired Law Professor Earl Dudley Publishes Memoir, 'An Interested Life'

December 04, 2009

Audio by Earl Dudley

December 4, 2009 — One of Earl Dudley's first memories is the sky full of white parachutes as the U.S. Army arrived to rescue his parents and him and some 2,000 other prisoners of the Japanese in the Philippines. It was Feb. 23, 1945.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Rebecca Arrington:

A professor emeritus of the University of Virginia School of Law, Dudley recounts their time in the internment camps and his next six decades in America in a new memoir, "An Interested Life."

He was lucky to be rescued at all from the camp. Three years earlier, on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dudley's mother was taking him for a walk in the stroller; he was 11 months old. His father, a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy, was stationed at a base in the Philippine province of Cavite on Manila Bay, but when a Japanese attack seemed imminent, he thought his wife and baby would be safer at a small Army base in the mountains.

That was the first place the Japanese bombed.

Dudley's mother was severely injured and her right leg was amputated. Dudley's kneecap was shattered with shrapnel, but more critically, he wasn't breathing. The doctor and nurse struggled unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. With other injured people to treat, the doctor told the nurse to leave him.

"She balked and wouldn't give up," Dudley said, recently telling the story in his living room.

The nurse suggested a heart stimulant, but decided the syringe would be too risky; she could easily kill him if she jabbed the wrong spot. She quickly found a bottle of whiskey, remembering it could have the same effect, soaked some gauze with it, added sugar, and stuck it in his mouth. Dudley was revived when he began sucking the gauze.

He didn't know this story until he read about it in a book about U.S. military nurses when he was more than 60 years old, he said.

Dudley survived to embark on a law career in which he had the opportunity to work with some of the "giants of the legal scene," he said. He had always wanted to be a lawyer and considered a political career, but after college – he earned his undergraduate degree in history from Amherst in 1961 – he detoured into journalism.

Dudley worked at the New York Times, starting out as a copy boy before moving up to news clerk.

"I was a go-fer," he said. "When the reporters finished a story, they'd rip it out of the typewriter and yell, 'Copy!' and I ran it to the editors."

He switched to United Press International a year later, based on the advice of his mentor at the Times, who told him he'd get more experience more quickly if he worked for a wire service.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Dudley was sitting at the international desk in a horseshoe-shaped area where he would retrieve news from the teletype machines. He would then select and edit the stories to be distributed internationally.

"At first it was a slow news day," he said. "Then a bulletin came in."

For a bulletin five bells would ring. The UPI reporter following President John F. Kennedy's car in Dallas wrote that shots had been fired.

"Five minutes later, it was a flash."

That meant the bells would keep on ringing. Kennedy was wounded. Ten minutes later, another came in – the president was dead.

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president. "For the next several hours it was pandemonium," Dudley said. He stayed on through the next shift. After a day off, he went to work on Sunday, the day Jack Ruby shot Oswald.

By the next year, Dudley was beginning to chafe at maintaining the impartial view of a newsman.

"I had strong political views, especially on racial issues," said Dudley, who was a ninth-grader when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education. His liberal parents told him the court was right. In school, he debated on the side of desegregation. "I thought I might be better suited to being an advocate rather than being an observer."

He also had to worry about the physical demands of being a reporter – possibly running from story to story. Dudley's wartime injury had left him with one leg six inches shorter than the other, and the brace he still wears would become uncomfortable if he had to be on his feet for long spells or moving quickly.

Dudley, a Virginia native, attended U.Va. Law School. He said in-state tuition was $800 a year in the mid-'60s.

He later won a coveted clerkship in the chambers of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, whom he describes in his book as "the one really great man ... that I have ever known."

His own law career began after he worked on Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign. Dudley said Humphrey wouldn't have made a good president, but he felt it was more important to support the Democrats and to stop Richard Nixon from winning.

After Humphrey narrowly lost to Nixon, Dudley eventually landed at the Washington, D.C., firm of Williams & Connolly, a trial firm. He details some of the interesting cases he worked on his book, from a case involving the United Mine Workers to the "Elvis bandit" to "Bonnie the Space Monkey."

After a two-year stint as general counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, he returned to private practice, where he said he enjoyed doing the research for case briefs. In the '80s, he began giving weekend seminars at the U.Va. Law School. He realized he liked mentoring young lawyers, he said.

The idea of teaching took hold, and Dudley joined the law faculty in 1989. His wife, Louise, whom he married fresh out of college in 1961, became the director of U.Va. news services and eventually the University's spokeswoman.

"Law schools have a reputation for not being happy places," Dudley said. "U.Va. was more relaxed." It attracted students who wanted to be in that environment.

"The U.Va. students were wonderful. They were smart and motivated. ... I'm still in touch with a lot of them," said Dudley, who retired in May 2008.

"I've lived through interesting things. I thought it was worth writing down," said Dudley, who added he also wrote it for his family. He is continuing research on his family's history and plans to write another book.

— By Anne Bromley