Changes in the leadership of the Society are a natural and recurring factor. At each Annual Meeting elections are held that result in new persons joining the team, and others changing the roles they fulfill in the Society. But June 2013 marked a change of such significance that it can be characterized as a true “turning point.” On June 3rd, Leon Silverman moved from a position of active leadership to become Chairman of the Board Emeritus. This signals the end of nearly 30 years of continuing service to the Society by Leon.
For many of us, including me, Leon Silverman provided our introduction to the Supreme Court Historical Society. Indeed, his name was synonymous with the Society for many people for many years. I first became acquainted with the Society through Leon who my law partner at the time. I know that many other members and officers of the Society owe their introductions to the Society to Leon as well. Leon has a gift for motivating others to become involved in the projects that have captured his interest. I learned this from a professional standpoint, and perhaps it is not surprising that he has a exhibited a great ability to interest his associates in his extra-curricular activities as well.
When he became President in 1991 he had already been a driving force in the Society’s fledgling endowment campaign instituted by Justice Stanley. Long-time staff members recall his first days in the office as President of the Society when he perused the legal directories of lawyers and began calling or writing his many colleagues to invite them to participate in the Society. Not only did membership numbers swell under his presidency, but vital financial support was expanded as well. With an expanded and more stable stream of financial support, he turned his interests to developing a plan for expanding the Society’s outreach. He considered the expansive goals outlined by the incorporators of the Society, and turned his mind to finding ways to try and reach some of those goals. In particular, he focused on programs that would help the Society achieve the educational mission outlined in the By-Laws. His vision for the expansion of programs and publications became the blueprint for the Society’s growth over the next decades.
During his 11-year tenure as President, a period of service in that role unequaled in the history of the Society to date, he initiated the lecture series that was later named in his honor. He oversaw the expansion of the flagship publication, the Journal of Supreme Court History from one to three editions annually. Under his leadership the first sessions of the Summer Institute for Teachers were held. He raised funds to allow the Society to continue and complete the work on the Documentary History of the Court’s first decade. The publications program was expanded beyond those first few titles to provide for special publications such as the Illustrated Biographies of the Supreme Court Justices. That volume has proven to be so popular that it was recently revised and updated and is currently in its third edition. Other publications such as Brown, Black and White were published under his leadership.
Leon also led the drive to purchase and renovate the Society’s very handsome headquarters at Opperman House on East Capitol Street. The dedication of the building in 1999 marked the culmination of a dream to find a permanent location which could serve as a base of operations for Society activities, provide meeting space for small activities, house our outstanding library, and provide a place where members could come while they were on Capitol Hill.
Leon’s dedication to the Society and his friendly outgoing ways earned him the respect of all with whom he worked. He took the time to visit Washington frequently and to develop personal friendships with staff members, officers and staff members of the Court, as well as the Justices, most of who knew him on a first name basis.
Under his leadership the Society’s general financial health improved dramatically opening the way to expand the activities and programs the Society could provide. Recognition of the Society increased as well, and membership grew. Indeed, of the Society’ many successes over the past two decades and more, there are few that cannot trace their roots to Leon’s imagination and drive. Although he has requested Emeritus Status, he will always be an integral part of the Society. We salute him for his many outstanding contributions and for his visionary leadership. We are all beneficiaries of his legacy, and as we move forward, we will continue to build upon the firm foundation he laid.