Archive for Saturday, April 1, 1995


April 1, 1995


The Kansas University School of Law will honor a member of its emeritus faculty at a banquet tonight.

Paul Wilson is skeptical that he deserves the honor the Kansas University School of Law will bestow tonight.

Maybe the law school community just wanted to hear ``Tall Paul'' tell the story of the $45 blue suit again. More about that in a minute.

On the occasion of the publication of his memoir on Brown vs. Board of Education, the law school is feting Wilson with a banquet. ``A Time to Lose'' chronicles Wilson's role as the assistant Kansas attorney general who represented the state in the landmark case.

Proceeds from tonight's affair will benefit the Kansas Defender Project, an appellate laboratory that Wilson founded in 1965.

Now in his 80s, Wilson has been retired from the law school faculty since 1981.

Law school alumni agree that one of the most cherished rituals of their tenure in Green Hall was Wilson's annual recounting of the Brown case. Wilson concedes that his most riveting anecdote tells the story of the wardrobe dilemma he faced before his appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Being a simple country lawyer with nothing properly formal to wear, Wilson bought a $45 blue dress suit on layaway at The Palace clothing store in Topeka.

``Everybody remembers my story about the blue suit. If they remember nothing else, they remember that,'' he said resignedly.

Today that suit is memorialized not only in oral tradition but also in the Kansas Museum of History, where it was ensconced two years ago by popular demand.

Francis Heller, a longtime law faculty colleague who had an office next to Wilson's, said students were drawn to him because of his wit and ``the sonorous voice'' that created a profound presence.

``I have always been impressed by how immensely admired and respected Paul was by his former students,'' Heller said. ``I remember many times I would go somewhere in the state speaking to a group and not necessarily of lawyers. Invariably, people would talk about Paul.''

Wilson estimates that about one-third of the state's judges passed through his classes during the 27 years he taught criminal procedure and evidence.

U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum said the fact that Wilson had represented the loser in such a renowned case was in itself instructive.

``He was a consummate professional who had a particular client to represent, and to represent fully and fairly,'' Lungstrum said. ``I think that was an important thing we learned from Paul Wilson in terms of the lawyer's role.''

Heller agreed. ``One of the lessons that Paul left with his students was that it isn't so much whether you win or you lose. You can still make a difference in the society of which you are a part.''

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