Estil Vance

From Ned Cabot

When many of us enjoyed visiting with Estil Vance at our 45th Reunion last spring, none of us, including Estil, knew that he had only a few months to live. The cancer struck suddenly. I know that the warm welcome he received in New Haven meant a great deal to Estil.

Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, Estil had an outstanding career at Yale. In addition to working harder than anyone I have known, he found time to earn his varsity football letter and to become an outstanding debater. Estil attended law school at the University of Texas where he graduated first in his class and served as articles editor of the law review. Upon graduation he joined the prestigious Fort Worth law firm of Cantey & Hanger where he rose to become head of the firm’s litigation division. Long active in politics, Estil was chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party and served on the Fort Worth City Council.

Many of you will have met Estil’s wonderful wife Melinda at our reunions or class events. His high school sweetheart and an outstanding lawyer in her own right, Melinda attended the University of Texas Law School, became a leader in Democratic politics and served as a municipal court judge in Fort Worth. Their two children, Estil and Kathleen, both graduated from Yale and like their father were members of Phi Beta Kappa. Kathleen followed her parents into law, while young Estil became a doctor and research oncologist.

Estil and I roomed together at Yale for four years and were friends for 50. I have never known a better man. I have known other brilliant people but none with his modesty. In our first months at Yale when the high marks started coming in, he shrugged them off. “I was pretty lucky that time.” In all our talks over the years, I never heard him say a word to acknowledge his achievements or to put down another person. Yet he was no goody-goody. He had a marvelous self-deprecating sense of humor and a natural inclination to see the funny side of any situation. When Harriet Myers was nominated to the Supreme Court last fall, Estil told me of one such incident. He was on the board when Myers chaired the State Bar Association of Texas. Apparently, the association had always had trouble getting members to come to its annual meeting. One day Myers raised the question of how to boost attendance. After some earnest discussion, Estil had a suggestion. Why not announce that the next meeting would be the very last one the association would ever hold. They could dub it ‘The Last Roundup.’ Estil pointed out that members would want to come just so that they could say that had been there. As Estil reported to me with some delight, Myers had turned to him and said, “Estil, that is the most unhelpful suggestion we’ve had today.”

The ancient Greeks used to say that you could not assess the quality of a man’s life until you knew how his life had ended. By that standard, Estil’s life was a good and happy one. I talked to him forty-eight hours before the end. He was the same Estil, the same warm and loving man. Like the best people we know, Estil led by example. If I am conscious of it, I hope that I will meet the end of my own life with something like his gentle humor, courage and grace.