This is Jean McMillen interviewing Stuyvesant k. Bearns at his office on 12 Porter Street, Lakeville, Ct. the office of Shipman & Goodwin. He is going to talk about coming to this area, being a lawyer in this area, and stories about Cam Becket. The date is Sept. 25, 2012. I am going to start with basic genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
SB:My name is Stuyvesant K. Bearns.
JM:Your birthdate, please?
SB:Sept. 7, 1937
SB:I was born in Washington, D.C.
JM:What are your parents’ names?
SB:My father was Melville H. Bearns Jr. and my mother was Julie Gordon Stuyvesant Keith before she was married, and then she was Julie Keith Bearns.
JM:Do you have siblings?
SB:Yes, I have one brother Melville, five years older than I am.
SB:Kent School 1955, Yale University 1959, 3 years in the Marine Corp. University of Virginia law School 1965 with an LLB
JM:How did you come to this area?
SB:I was looking for some way to get out of New York City because it was proving to be somewhat oppressive. By a very curious set of circumstances I got Cam Becket’s name as an attorney in Lakeville who might be looking for help. I wrote him a letter; I didn’t hear anything for quite a while. Then one night about 11 o’clock I was sound asleep in the apartment in New York; the phone rang and it was Cam. I accepted his invitation to come up and talk to him. I went to work for him on a trial basis in late October in 1973. I came up here to work with him full time in January of 1974.
JM:Who were some of the lawyers who were working in this area in the 1970’s?
SB:Well, Cam was in practice next to but not in part of the partnership with Tom Wagner. Other lawyers in the area were Don Warner, practicing solo in Sharon, Katherine Roraback, practicing solo in Canaan, and Jake Rand, practicing solo in Salisbury. I think that was about it for the immediate area. They were all solo practitioners. Oh Bill Ford was practicing in Salisbury, too, no Lakeville.
JM:Where was Mr. Becket’s law office at the time you came here?
SB:It was where Robin Leech Real Estate Office now is. (318 Main St. Lakeville, Ct. Ed.)
JM:There was a merger in 1980?
SB:There was activity before that; in 1975 Cam Becket and I and Bill Ford and Frank Dooley formed a firm called Becket, Ford, Dooley & Bearns. We moved into this building at 12 Porter St. which Bill Ford owned.
JM:Was this the original building on the site.
SB:It is my understanding that this was the town garage.
JM:I have been told it was the town garage before, and bill ford owned it.
SB:Bill Ford owned the building.
JM:When you came here was Mr. Becket easing out of the lawyer business? Was he still fully active?
SB:He was still as fully active as he could be, but he recognized that he needed some help. He was 74, and very frankly his attention span was dropping.
JM:Now I am going to ask you to tell three stories about Mr. Becket, and we’ll start off with driving his wife to New York City.
SB:I clearly have these stories only by hearsay. I did not in any way participate in them, see them, or even hear about them soon after the occurrences, but the story of the drive to New York City, if not apocryphal, goes like this. Cam was in a hurry to get to New York for some reason. He thought his wife Elyse was in the back seat. He headed off and he got to Hawthorne Circle; it is no longer a circle but it was in those days. He had been talking to her the whole way as he was want to do. He turned around and realized that she was not there. That’s the story.
JM:The second one is about an automobile robbery that didn’t happen.
SB:Oh right, we had a secretary working for us named Dorothy Massey. Actually she was doing paralegal work for us. She had a 4 door pale yellow American car; Cam had a similar car about the same color. One day Dorothy had gone down to the Town Hall to do some work in the land records. I got this highly agitated phone call from Dorothy that her car had just been stolen and call the police or do
something and help get my car aback. As I was talking to her, my office then was in the back of this building, I looked out and saw Dorothy’s car come rolling in with Cam at the wheel. What had happened was Cam had left the Town hall himself and gotten in the wrong car. He had had the same experience that I do where you forget where you had parked your car. So I said to Dorothy, “Dorothy, don’t worry. Just go right along the street and see if you see Cam’s car, and if so, get in it and drive back.” Well, that didn’t help a bit. She was very flustered. “How will I get my car back? Blah, blah, blah” “Just do as I told you.” She went out and got in Cam’s car and came back.
JM:That’s a wonderful story. Then there is the story about the hot day with the iced tea.
SB:This is not really a story; it is just an example of Cam’s generous streak. We were standing outside by what was then the Lakeville filling station which is now Davy Jones Repair shop, Lakeville Automotive. It was hotter than blazes and Cam had this big mug of iced tea in his hand. He was sipping at it. Along came some bedraggled hitch hiker. In typical fashion Cam struck up a conversation with him. Then he took a long look at the guy and passed him his mug of ice tea, and waved him on his way.
JM: Which is a wonderful random act of kindness.
JM:Now when I was clearing this with Cam’s son Peter, he said, “Now make sure that you have in part of the interview about my father being able to walk on his hands.” Is this something that you personally had ever seen?
SB:Oh yes, when I first got here, Cam still could go long a flat on his hands. I am not sure he could still go upstairs, but he could, and I definitely saw him walk downstairs. There is a funny story about that; did I tell you the one about Al Borden?
JM:No you didn’t tell me that one.
SB:It is very good. Back in the days when the bank was where the insurance agency is now Founders. It seems that Al Borden had arranged for some very wealthy client to come up here and look at a property. The story goes like this. The woman was in a limousine apparently with a uniformed chauffeur. They were driving past the bank when Cam came out of the bank walking on his hands with a small crowd around him. The woman saw this, and is reputed to have turned to the driver and said, ”Turn around and go back. I am not living in a town full of drunks.” Which was pretty funny as Cam was a teetotaler all his life.
JM:Yes, he was.
SB:What you didn’t want to do was go to Cam’s and ask for a gin and tonic because he had no awareness of the proportions. You were likely to get two ounces of tonic and a glass filled up with gin.
JM:In some cases that wouldn’t be all bad. Peter would tell the story when he was growing up, his father would walk down the stairs and the change would fall out of his pockets, and the children would rush to pick up the change.
SB:That probably happened too.
JM:Do you have anything else that you would like to add about the law business that you are in. What kind of law do you do?
SB:I do what is called Trust and Estate work which is essentially the writing of wills for people, trusts and grants. To a lesser degree now and in a greater degree in years past it used to involve legitimate planning to avoid death taxes, federal and state taxes. In those days there was also inheritance tax. When I started it was very low only $60,000 for both federal and state tax. There was no unlimited marital deduction. The tax was really confiscatory. It affected people who would never land in that bracket: school teachers and people like that. I used to do a lot of state tax avoidance in the legal sense. That is less important now because the federal exemption had risen to $500 and Connecticut exemption is 2 million dollars. You have to be pretty well off to be bothered by those taxes.
JM:That is not going to affect me at all.
SB:I don’t think it is going to affect me anyway. My practice also involves obviously settling people estates when they die and administering trusts. It also involves conservatorships. I do not do adoptions. That is what the practice is. When I first came here, it was entirely solo practitioners. Becket, ford, Dooley and Bearns was the first multi lawyer partnership in the Northwest corner.
JM:Are there more of those multi lawyer partnerships now?
SB:Well, don Warner soon followed up by hiring Charlie Vail and Louise Brown, so he became Warner, Vail & Brown. Now of course there is Drury and Bates in Canaan.
JM:Most of them have developed a partnership if not more.
SB: Yeah, but there are still solo practitioners.
JM:Is it because of the diversity of the law or is it because of the increased amount of work?
SB:Well the work has increased as the population has grown and the area has gotten wealthier. It was largely a rural and retirement area when I got here. The second home boom didn’t start until just about 1979.
JM:That conforms to what Robinson Leech has said.
SB:There was a strange article written in the New York Magazine with the caption “Forget the Hamptons, it is now Country Chic!” Salisbury was one of the places featured. It wasn’t long after that article appeared that people started traveling up the road and buying properties for second homes.
JM:I imagine that 9/11 also had an impact.
SB:Well, not as much as you might expect. People did not flood up here out of fear. I think a few people came up here and bought places, but it was no great immigration for second homes.
JM:It just seems to have been a steady line of people.
SB:Yeah. It is a lovely place to live.
JM:It is a lovely place to live; we both know that.
SB:That’s why I came up here; I came up here as a weekender in Southern Berkshire County. I built a little house up there and it was there that I hear about Cam Becket. So I too am part of that.
JM:Well, so was Geoff Drury in Canaan. It was the same idea. Are you involved in any civic activities in your leisure time?
SB:Not as much as I used to be. I was active in the local Mental Health clinic as a trustee or director for many years. I was very active in the church, in various roles for quite a while. (Trinity Church Ed.) But I have tapered off.
JM:We all do,
SB:It is called paying your dues.
JM:Yes, and well worth it. Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t covered about your business, or Cam Becket?
SB:Only that having been here since 1974, I feel very lucky and very privileged.
JM:What a wonderful way to end an interview. Thank you so much.