Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Author Interview: Earl Dudley Chronicles a Life from Prisoner to Professor

Having had a childhood that virtually parallels the story of Steven Spielberg’s 1987 movie, Empire of the Sun, retired UVA law professor Earl C. Dudley, Jr., begins his memoir, An Interested Life, with the Japanese bombing of the Philippines that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“My mother and I were injured in the first Japanese bombing of the Philippine Islands on December 8, 1941,” he told me in a recent interview.  “With my parents, I was interned in the Japanese internment camps for a little over three years in the Philippines, and we were rescued by a very dramatic operation of the 11th Airborne Division on February 23, 1945.”

Dudley was one of more than 30 local and regional writers at a “Meet the Author” book signing at the Holiday Inn in Charlottesville on November 19.

‘My parents were starving themselves’
“I was only 4 when the war was over,” Dudley explained, “so I have little independent memory of my own, but I have no memory of having had an unhappy childhood.  My life was sheltered.  My parents were starving themselves to feed me.”

He recalled that his father, “who was about 6 feet tall and normally weighed about 175 or 180 pounds, weighed about 120 pounds when the war was over.  It was an experience for the adults that involved a tremendous amount of deprivation and unpleasantness.”

Yet, he remembers that, “as a child, I had the full attention of my parents.  They were prisoners and so they focused their attention on me and they starved themselves to feed me. So I don’t think I had an unhappy childhood.”

After spending one’s earliest years in a prisoner of war camp, anything after that must pale in comparison.  Yet Dudley’s life was peppered with poignant moments.

John F. Kennedy Assassination
In the early 1960s, he was working as a journalist for UPI in New York.  As it happens, he was on the editor's desk when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

He writes in his memoir about that day:

“The news of the assassination hit me, as it did almost everyone, like a punch to the solar plexus.  But I had no time to grieve.  I was running an international news wire with the biggest story in many years.  Given the magnitude and pace of events, there was no time for a transition to a new editor, so I remained in the [editor’s] slot for most of the next shift as well….  I simply operated on instinct and somehow made it through the crisis without panicking.”

End of segregation
Dudley grew up in the South during the last years of enforced segregation.  He was in the ninth grade in Northern Virginia, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools were inherently unequal and, consequently, unconstitutional in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.

“I was the only kid that I ever found at my Herndon High School in 1954 whose parents told him the Supreme Court got it right,” he said.

Working for civil rights, he continued, “was always a priority of mine.  I organized a demonstration at the White House in the spring of 1960 in support of the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then in later years, I did a fair amount of pro bono work for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Washington.”

Studying at the University of Virginia Law School drew Dudley to Charlottesville and, after graduating, he clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren during the Supreme Court’s 1967-68 term.

Police pat-downs
Dudley clerked during the year the Court decided Terry v. Ohio, a case that may have relevance in the current controversy about Transportation Security Administration searches at U.S. airports.

Dudley said that case was probably the best-known of that Supreme Court term, adding that he worked on it, explaining that it “dealt with the question of police pat-downs on the street, with less than probable cause to arrest. It was very controversial case at the time and has spawned a huge, whole jurisprudence of its own.”

After two decades working for various Washington law firms, Dudley returned to Charlottesville to teach.

His classes included “mostly litigation-related courses, because that’s what I had done in practice.  I taught evidence, civil procedure, criminal procedure, criminal law, constitutional law, and trial advocacy.”

Dudley retired from teaching in 2008, and now enjoys quietude and travel with his wife of more than 50 years, Louise, and his family, seven decades after a tumultuous beginning to what he calls “an interested life.”

(This article originally appeared in slightly different form on Examiner.com on Sunday, November 21, 2010.)

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