Theodore McMillian was appointed to the United States Court of Apppeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis by President Carter in 1978. As with virtually every legal position he attained after graduating first in his class from St. Louis University Law School in 1949, he was the first black judge to serve on the Eighth Circuit. Judge McMillian served on the court from 1978 until his death this morning in St. Louis at age 86.
I worked as an Eighth Circuit law clerk from 1979-1981 in an office down the hall from Judge McMillian and got to know him in my capacity as a clerk. I also appeared before him three times as a practicing attorney. I found him to be reserved, modest, kind, delightful, and diligent. Though his great grandfather had been a slave and he himself lived under Jim Crow, he seemed to me unburdened by resentments that would certainly have been understandable. Perhaps most striking was the ready smile with which he indiscriminately greeted all comers.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obituary quotes Judge McMillian saying, “It’s more important to be human than to be important.” Judge McMillian was both human and important, setting a tremendous example for those of us who had the privilege of working with him or appearing before him. RIP. (Thanks to Mark Arnold.)
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