Brother Tim Curtin ’64: You CAN Fool Some of the People All of the Time

In fall 1960, I arrived at U of M green as grass. I had attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Detroit and my social skills were severely underdeveloped. I knew little about partying and less about women. My first year at Michigan was decidedly uneven. I loved the classes (except calculus) and the football games, but remained socially retarded. My first roommate was so homesick for the U.P. that he dropped out at the end of the first semester and my next roommate (tragically) committed suicide. While I like to think I bear little responsibility for either one, I was far from integrated into college life.

In 1961, that all began to change. I was a late-spring 1961 pledge and moved into the DX house the following fall. I found a home. My pledge class, after surviving Hell Week under our inhuman pledge master, Lane Kendig ’62, and his evil assistant, Herb (“the Teutonic Texan”) Koenig ‘63, fit pretty seamlessly into the house. This is because the DXs were a decidedly eclectic group. I don’t mean the house was exactly the “Island of Lost Toys”, but each of us had his own idiosyncrasies. We weren’t the smartest house on campus, or the most athletic. The Good Lord knows we weren’t the smoothest or the best-looking, but we may have been the most amiable. We were all about live-and-let-live and generally managed to have a great time together. I lived in the house sophomore and junior years and, as a senior, took an apartment near campus with brothers Jim Richhart ’64 and Howard Travis ’63. However, our social life still revolved around DX.

Crucially, also in the fall of 1961, while trying to fulfill my science requirement as painlessly as possible, I took a night astronomy class from the notorious Doc. Losh (she of the “A” for athletes, “B” for boys and “C” for co-eds grading system).  There, obviously needing assistance with the math, I was befriended by Colleen Lindsey, a lovely first-year nursing student. Not only were her math skills far superior to my own, but socially she was in another league. Finally, it dawned on me that perhaps her kindness was not altogether platonic and, by the end of the semester, we were “a couple”, and remain so 55 years later.

My memories of my three years as an active are virtually all good ones: homecoming floats, toga parties, well-lubricated song fests, all-night bridge games, intramural sports and pledge formals. I know it sounds a little saccharin, but it was fun. An amazing number of DXs, like me, had steady dates and most ended up marrying them. When we gather for homecoming games, it is like being transported back to 1963. The Koenigs, Gandelots, Kennedys, McGuires, Brandts, Curtins and more remain the same couples as 50 years ago.

In spite of daily study dates with Colleen (a person of disciplined study habits), my undergraduate grades were wildly erratic. I did well in the several courses I liked, and abysmally in the ones I didn’t, including a lost semester in the business school when I spent more time on golf course than in the classroom. I was saved by only heroic cramming.

I managed to graduate on schedule and Colleen and I married in summer 1964, with many brothers in attendance. We lived in an apartment near campus as Colleen was finishing her final undergraduate year in nursing. I took a job at Manufacturers Nation Bank in Detroit. Why, after my experience in business school, I went to work with a bank still mystifies me. I had a less-than-brilliant year with MNB, which, I am sure was as happy to see me go as I was to leave.

Because I didn’t appear to be better suited for anything else, I applied to U of M’s Law School. Luckily, the LSAT tested for just the type of arcane knowledge I specialized in, and I was admitted in spite of my patchy undergraduate record. Feeling that I was somehow “behind”, I enrolled in the accelerated program—three summers and two academic years—which I doubt is even offered now. I slogged my way through, graduating with honors. However, by the end, I felt there was nothing in the law school that I wanted to return for.

Colleen, after her graduation, began work at the V.A. Hospital in Ann Arbor. Unlike me, she had been an outstanding student and was soon offered a spot at U of M’s graduate School of Nursing, complete with a federal stipend of $250 per month. She signed up and, for the next two years, completed her master’s degree while I was in law school. We lived in university student housing and subsisted on the stipend, supplemented by our meager savings and odd jobs I picked up.

Nearing graduation at the end of the summer in 1967, I belatedly realized I had no prospective job. The drawback of the accelerated program was that I had had no opportunity to clerk for a law firm, the normal way a law student finds employment. However, fortune smiled on me anew when a savvy woman in the Law School’s guidance office had taken it upon herself to schedule me for an interview with the firm of Taft, Stettinius and Hollister of Cincinnati. I had noticed Taft’s posting, but coming from a long line of “yellow dog” Democrats, had not signed myself up, believing there was small chance I would prosper at “Mr. Republican’s”, Senator Robert Taft’s, firm. Amazingly, Taft offered me a job. When I walked in Taft’s door, it was my first time in an actual law office.

We spent three great years in Cincinnati. Colleen became an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati’s Nursing School and I was introduced to a first-class office stuffed with talented lawyers. An added bonus was that Howard and Judy Gandelot were also living in town, where Howie was beginning his very successful career with P and G. Against all expectations, Taft put up with our political heresy, although eyebrows were raised when Colleen and I were two of only a small handful of people in the entire city to campaign for Sen. Gene McCarthy.

In 1969, Colleen became pregnant with our first child (it’s clear Kate was conceived in Rome on the first of our many trips to Italy). I was a labor lawyer at Taft, which involved a great deal of unscheduled travel; every time one of our clients (e.g. Krogers, GE, NCR, or Masonite) was struck, one of us labor associates was dispatched to the scene, usually for the duration of the strike. Exciting, but many of Taft’s labor lawyers saw their children only sporadically. We decided it was time to look for a new job with more regular hours, preferably in Michigan near our families.

In 1970, I joined the small, six-person firm of McCobb, Heaney and Van’t Hof and we moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan where, in the same year, Kate was born. Two years later, she was followed by our last child, Mary Catherine. Although only fractionally more liberal politically than Cincinnati, Grand Rapids proved a wonderful place to raise children and continues to be a fine place to live.

Colleen took off a couple of years from her career when the girls were small, but her retirement was only temporary. She soon dived back into nursing education, eventually becoming a professor and, for a time, the Dean of Grand Valley State University’s Nursing School.

The McCobb firm grew and evolved through additions and mergers, first into Schmidt, Howlett, Heaney and Van’t Hof, then into Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt and Howlett and finally (with a bow to “branding”) to Varnum, LLP. It has offices throughout the state and over 170 lawyers. My practice, like-wise, evolved and I morphed into a commercial lawyer. For 35 years prior to my retirement in 2010, I did nothing but represent financially troubled businesses, receivers or trustees called in to manage or liquidate them, or banks which had loaned them money.

I loved my work and, being located in Michigan, there was plenty of it. While heading the firm’s commercial and bankruptcy department for over 30 years, I appeared in cases throughout the U.S. and was active in the American Bankruptcy Institute and the American Bar Association, where I chaired a subcommittee on Abuse of Chapter 11. I wrote plenty of articles, spoke at scores of seminars and was listed in all editions of the Best Lawyers in America (showing that you CAN fool some of the people all of the time).

The best part of my practice was the opportunity to mentor younger lawyers, and I was blessed with many good ones. Two of them went on to be appointed U.S. Bankruptcy judges, which, to the extent I can claim any credit, remains my proudest, professional achievement.

Colleen and I continued to be politically active although, these days, she more than I. We served on the county Democratic Executive Committee. I chaired the District Democratic Committee and was a delegate to the 1980 Democratic convention. Colleen has actively campaigned for Democratic candidates in every presidential election from 1972 to date.

Our principal charity is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Crohn’s is a disease that has plagued Colleen’s family for decades and we sat on the local CCFA board for many years. We continue to actively fundraise for CCFA.

We have always loved travel and, by the time our children were nine or 10, regularly dragged them to Europe and elsewhere. We continue to visit the continent annually, particularly Italy where we are blessed with several friends. As we were foolish enough to send our kids to college out East, they have both ended up living in Massachusetts, where we visit often for grand parenting duty.

Beyond travel, we are art museum lovers, avid readers and gardeners (flowers for Colleen, vegetables for me), copious wine drinkers (red for me, white for her) and high-handicap golfers. We keep in touch with numerous DXs and their wives, but would like to hear from more. If any others want to contact me my email is [email protected] and the phone is 616-575-9996.