College mourns Pierce Lively ’43: Federal judge, life trustee and “soul of Centre College”
DANVILLE, Ky. (March 16, 2016) — Frederick Pierce Lively ’43, a respected federal judge and life trustee of Centre College, died Saturday, March 12, 2016. He was 94.
Lively had been a lawyer in Danville for 22 years when, in 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.
Speaking at Lively’s confirmation hearing, Senator John Sherman Cooper ’22 cited his “ability as a practicing attorney plus his scholarly inclinations” as reasons that he was “eminently qualified” for the post.
In 25 years on the bench, almost five of them as chief judge, Lively participated in more than 5,000 cases and developed a national reputation for clear writing, reasoned deliberations and a courteous demeanor.
His court heard appeals from federal trial courts in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. He participated in cases dealing with the most contentious of issues, including abortion rights, affirmative action, busing and desegregation, school textbooks, free speech and the separation of church and state. Many of his rulings still stand.
“It is not easy to put aside personal feelings, and, yes, even personal prejudices, and to decide controversies solely on merit,” he once said. “Yet that is what a judge must do every day. No judge succeeds every time, but every judge must make the effort.”
When Lively was named chief judge, a Cincinnati Post reporter described him as “the kind of judge who can’t be second-guessed but whose presence is usually welcomed by both sides in a dispute.”
A trustee for almost 64 years—the longest tenure in the history of the College—Lively joined the Centre board in 1952 and was named a life trustee, with full voting privileges, in 1988.
“My membership on the board has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” he wrote in 1983.
Over the years he was legal counsel to the College and secretary to the board. From 1979 to 1988, he was vice chair, a tenure that mostly overlapped the time his dear friend James H. Evans ’43 was chair. The two had first met as schoolboys in Louisville. On campus they remain forever united by the Evans-Lively room on the second floor of Old Carnegie. It was named in their honor in 1994.
“Judge Lively was the epitome of integrity, dignity and grace,” says J. David Grissom ’60, who succeeded Evans as Centre’s board chair. “He was an extraordinary man in every way.”
Lively was a student at Centre when the country entered World War II. He would occasionally recall when he first heard the news of the Pearl Harbor bombings: at a Sunday afternoon social gathering in the Beta Theta Pi house. Upon graduating with high honors and majors in English and history, he spent three years in the Navy with service in Okinawa and the Philippines.
The son of a lawyer, he graduated from law school at the University of Virginia in 1948 with high honors. He was on the editorial board of the Virginia Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif, the legal academic honor society. U.Va. now holds his judicial papers.
In an unexpected augur of his future, his first job was as a law clerk for Judge Shackelford Miller Jr. at the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Returning to Danville in 1949, he began practicing law and developing a record as an outstanding trial lawyer. Nelson D. Rodes ’54, his law partner for 15 years, recalls Lively as “the most disciplined person I’ve ever been around.”
“We had a very general practice,” says Rodes. “That was one of the joys of it. And his strengths were preparation and a great legal mind.”
After retiring from the court in 1997, Lively team-taught classes on constitutional law and civil liberties for 15 years with Dan Stroup, Pierce and Amelia Harrington Lively Professor of Politics and Law.
“Judge Lively brought so much to the courses that we taught together,” says Stroup. “He constantly reminded us that being a judge was ultimately about deliberation, and about judgment. But most of all he brought his practical wisdom, his gentle civility, his unassuming humility, his openness to views that he did not share and, perhaps most important, his sober appreciation of the human condition that taught us that we confront intractable social questions with reason and with courage, and that we do our best, all the while knowing that no solution will ever be perfect.”
Stroup adds, “Above all, he was for me and for my students the model of a selfless public servant and of a morally mature man.”
Edmund Sauer ’00, now an appellate lawyer in Nashville, recalls the importance of Lively’s influence on his future career.
“Although I always liked the idea of practicing appellate law, Judge Lively made me love it,” says Sauer. “The two constitutional law classes that he taught at Centre were the highlight of my academic career.”
Sauer adds, “Judge Lively was an incredibly bright legal scholar capable of analyzing difficult and abstract legal issues and concepts, as appellate judges are often required to do. But he always kept in mind that the cases before him (and those we discussed in class) involved real people and that his decisions would have a lasting influence on others for years to come.”
Lively was not all work. He was a voracious reader, especially of biographies, traveled widely, enjoyed playing golf and never missed a meeting of the Danville Literary and Social Club (known as Anaconda). Eventually he became the only member ever granted emeritus status.
President John A. Roush recalls the warmth and generosity of spirit of both Lively and his wife, the late Amelia Harrington Lively ’45.
“Pierce and Amelia were among the very first Centre people Susie and I had the opportunity to meet,” says Roush. “How well we remember their caring ways, their love for Centre, their affection for his fellow trustees and our students, faculty and staff. I have counted it a blessing to have learned from and been inspired by Pierce Lively’s life of work and service. Like his dear friend and classmate, the late Jim Evans, Judge Lively will be remembered as a giant in the life of his family, his College, his nation.”
Lively’s many accolades and awards include the American Inns of Court’s Professionalism Award for the Sixth Circuit, the University of Kentucky Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement, and the Council on Postsecondary Education’s OAK award as an outstanding alumnus of a Kentucky college.
His Centre honors include the Isaac Shelby Medallion, for extraordinary service to the College, community and nation.
When he received the honor, named for Kentucky’s first governor and Centre’s founding board chair, in 1997, retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor sent words of greeting.
“As a longtime volunteer myself, I recognize in you those qualities of wanting to give back to your educational institutions some of what they provided you years ago,” she wrote. “You care about the people and the institutions which have assisted you in times past, and you want to do all you can in your lifetime to leave the world in better shape as a result of your efforts.”
He received an honorary doctor of laws from his alma mater in 1988. In conferring the degree, then-President Richard L. Morrill called Lively the “soul of Centre College” and “one of the singular great people” in the life of the College.
Lively’s wife died in 2000. Their children, Susan Lively ’72, Kit Lively ’75 (Sam Hodges) and Thad Lively ’77 (Elizabeth Bennett Lively ’80), survive him along with grandsons Pierce Lively and Will Lively.
A service will be held at a future date.
Above: Pierce Lively gives the Centre College Founders Day address in 1997.