Cooley's namesake, and his legacy, memorialized in permanent statues


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

“I’ve had this idea for as long as I can remember,” said Thomas M. Cooley Law School President Don LeDuc at a ceremony last Friday dedicating a statue of Justice Thomas McIntyre Cooley which will stand in the Grand Rapids Campus courtyard.

Cooley professor Marjorie Gell  became convinced that the courtyard needed a defining statue somewhat later, but when the two got together with sculptor Matt Large, things began to happen.

LeDuc and Gell, along with associate professor Heather Garretson, determined that a statue of Thomas M. Cooley, after whom founder Thomas E. Brennan named the college, would be ideal. Large, who had made Gell’s acquaintance through his attorney wife, studied Cooley and his life, and made a suggestion: he wanted to
create two statues, one of Cooley and one of an unnamed someone Cooley might have given help. The team agreed.

The statue of Cooley himself is shown at left, immediately after unveiling; Large has his back to the camera. At far right is Dean LeDuc, and between them is Gell.

Large was inspired by Thomas Cooley’s selfless and unassuming nature, noting that his success in life never made him too proud to help others.

As Associate Dean of Development and Alumni Relations Jim Robb noted at the dedication ceremony, Thomas M. Cooley (1824-1898), came from humble beginnings in New York state, and became the dean of the newly-founded University of Michigan Law School, then a 20-year Michigan Supreme Court Justice including time as Chief Justice, and the first chair of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first independent Federal agency.

His work, “Constitutional Limitations,” is still in use, and he originated the Cooley Doctrine, which says that there is a constitutional, as well as inherent, right to local self-determination, or, as he stated, “...local government is an absolute right, and the state...cannot take it away.”

The second statue depicts a man, down on his luck, referred to simply as The Beneficiary (at right). His gaze meets Cooley’s, as the honored Justice extends his generous hand to the man.

A version of the statues will appear at Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills, Ann Arbor and Lansing campuses.