As you know, John Glenn recently passed away.

His death caused me to think back to the day he became the first American to orbit the earth. It was my birthday, February 20, 1962. I was 15 that day and a freshman in high school, likely wearing penny loafers, white bucks, or saddle shoes.

(That week the Duke of Earl by Gene Chandler took over as number 1 on the charts surpassing The Peppermint Twist, by Joey Dee and the Startliters.)

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Like many high school guys, I had a flat top. (Most of the astronauts had flat tops.) Mine was not particularly ideal in that my hair was very curly and even when short and plastered with Brylcreem, my hair wouldn’t stand up like I wanted.

That 15th birthday in 1962, was the day, my father decided, where I should go to college, what I should study and what I should do with my life. He even told me, right then.

I was to go to Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, VA, where my grandfather and at least one cousin had gone before me. I was to study Aerospace Engineering. After all, Chris Kraft, the voice of NASA, was a Virginia Tech aerospace engineering graduate.

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In the fall of 1965, my father drove me the 912 miles to Blacksburg and dropped me off in a town and a college where I did not know one single person. It was that first quarter, that I discovered the major flaws in my father’s game plan.

Even though I had not taken my first aerospace engineering class, the engineering math was really hard, I hated carrying a slide rule on my hip and I couldn’t make my lines fine enough in my engineering drawing class.

I had been a great student and the apple of each teacher’s eye from first grade through my senior year in high school. But, that fall of 1965, I was struggling and hated my classes. (I like to tell people that if I had stayed in the aerospace program at Virginia Tech, I’d likely have started my career working at the bowling alley in Blacksburg after I flunked out.)

I had one other slight problem that I was not aware of at the time. Later, when it came time to sign up to be an USAF pilot, I couldn’t see those numbers in many of the circles meaning I was red-green color blind and automatically not qualified to fly.

When I came home for the Christmas Holiday break, I looked my father in the eye and told him I wanted to be a lawyer, a trial lawyer. I could see in his eyes for the second time in my life, that I had disappointed him.

In his effort to convince me to follow the career plan he had for me, he told me:

Son, you are not mean enough or nasty enough to be a great trial lawyer.

I’m sure my feelings were hurt at the time since I still remember what he told me. He was actually right. I hated dealing with the lawyers who were mean enough and nasty enough to be great trial lawyers.

For the most part, clients hired me to resolve disputes, not litigate them.

I suspect I tried 25 or 30 cases in my career. Several were construction contract disputes, but some were white collar criminal cases, one was a patent infringement case, one was a Hatfield and McCoys family dispute in the coal fields of Southwest Virginia, and as a really young lawyer just out of the USAF, I helped defend an abused mother accused of murdering her husband in front of her children.

When I was a young lawyer, I watched some trial lawyers who wanted to bludgeon each and every adverse witness, whether they were a powerful businessman, or a young child, or an older widow. My father was right, I couldn’t do that. (And, I hated dealing with lawyers on the other side who were like that.)

I thought of myself as a Zorro (Spanish for Fox) or The Gray Ghost kind of trial lawyer. Those were two television shows I watched beginning when I was 10 years old.

(My Great Grandmother told me she was a distant cousin of the Gray Ghost, Ranger John Singleton Mosby. She gave me his Memoirs, which were published in 1917).

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What did I get from watching those characters as a 10 year old? In one of the very first shows, Zorro says:

When dealing with a powerful enemy, we must play another game. You know the old proverb; “If you cannot clothe yourself in the skin of a lion, put on that of a fox!”

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Visual is from later movie

I still remember the opening music for the show. Here’s a link which also includes the first few minutes of the first episode.

Click on the YouTube video below and listen to how they started each The Gray Ghost show. Each ended with:

What we lacked in numbers we made up in speed and brains…

Gray Ghost is what they called me. John Mosby is my name.