Cooley grad donates bust to school

By Tyler Lecceadone

Cooley Law School


When 1991 Cooley Law School graduate John Nocita received a gift of a 1,200-pound bronze sculpture — on marble pedestal — of Thomas McIntyre Cooley from a grateful mentee last month, it didn’t take him long to decide to honor his alma mater with the inspirational piece of art.

“It was quite a surprise and humbling to receive such a magnificent sculpture from someone you really didn’t expect anything from in return. I was glad to give my advice and assistance, as any attorney should,” stated Nocita. “Knowing that I’m a Cooley graduate, he (the mentee) knew that I would appreciate this larger-than-life bust of my law school’s namesake — and I do — but I knew it really belonged at Cooley.”

Cooley was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1864 and served until 1885. Appointed by President Grover Cleveland, he was the first chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission. He was the 16th president of the American Bar Association (1893-1894), and the first of six ABA presidents coming from Michigan.  He wrote a number of law treatises; the most famous of which was Cooley’s Constitutional Limitations.  

The trip from Washington, D.C., where the Cooley sculpture was acquired on auction from the Federal Bar Association, to its final destination at Cooley’s campus in Lansing was challenging.

“I was never so glad to make it to Cooley with the sculpture in one piece,” said Nocita. “After we arranged to have the artwork delivered to my home in Chicago from D.C., my wife Rose and I planned to make the trek from Chicago to Cooley in a U-Haul.  We managed to make it all the way to Lansing in the cold and ice, when the truck started skating across an icy patch as we were coming into the downtown. We avoided an accident, but that gave us a bit of a scare.”

Even after making it to the Cooley Center building, it took six strong men and a little luck to get it positioned in its place of honor in the building’s main lobby.

“We had no idea how heavy it really was,” exclaimed Nocita. “When we tried to gently lower it down, it slipped and nearly fell to the ground. Thankfully, everything turned out fine and the artwork is perfect, and all in one piece!”

John and Rose Nocita will be inducted into the Thomas M. Cooley Donor Recognition Society at the Annual Gala on Oct. 17, and recognized for their generous gift of artwork to Cooley Law School. 

The sculptor, Jimilu Mason, was born in Las Cruces, N.M., the daughter of two musicians. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and began her art education at the age of 7. Mason was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to serve on the National Council on the Arts (1966-1972). Outside of the 1973 bronze bust of Thomas McIntyre Cooley, Mason has many other famous people, including John Jay, Lyndon Johnson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.


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