Grace Berg Schaible: Paying It Forward

Grace Schaible, pictured in the 1940s (UAF Archives)

Grace Schaible, pictured in the 1940s (UAF Archives)

WC can’t claim to have known Grace Schaible well. Before she retired from her law practice, there were a few cases, usually involving wills and estates. We shared tables at some social functions. WC was a guest in her condo. We were co-panelists at a couple of Alaska Bar functions. She was infallibly charming, generous, intelligent and engaging.

How do you summarize her nine decades of life in a simple blog post? Dermot Cole took a good shot at it, but marking such a rich life with trophies – one of the first woman attorneys, first woman State Attorney General, generous philanthropist – doesn’t begin to describe who she was and what she meant to so many people. It may not even be possible to summarize in words a life as long and wide as Grace Schaible’s.

WC will approach it this way, with an anecdote from WC’s buddy, JJT, that even links to WC’s hero, James Wickersham.

I didn’t know Grace well, she was largely out of practice by the time I started my career. She was someone I would chat with at Bar functions, fundraisers and university events. We would occasionally talk shop but mostly she would tell stories. Wonderful stories of a generation that just preceded mine. I did have the pleasure of sharing a meal with her at a bar convention lunch. She told me a story that has a tangential connection to James Wickersham.

Grace was raised in Juneau. Judge Wickersham’s wife, Deborah Wickersham, lived in what is now the Wickersham State Historic Site in Juneau. I’m not sure if the judge was alive at this time as he passed in 1939 when Grace was 14. Mrs. Wickersham would have the young ladies of Juneau’s leading families up to the house to have tea. The purpose, according to Grace, was sort of a finishing school where they were taught proper manners and how to socialize as proper ladies. One can imagine the scene in 1930’s and 40’s Juneau as the young ladies would climb the hill to the house on 7th street in their dresses and proper shoes to have their tea lessons in deportment with Mrs. Wickersham.

It occurred to me that decades later, Grace herself served a very similar role, as a mentor to young lawyers. She always talked about collegiality and civility amongst counsel as not just a tool but an end goal of the proper representation of our clients’ interests. While I have not always lived up to this ideal, it has always stuck in the back of my mind a very worthy aspiration.

Deborah Wickersham shared a sense of duty to Alaskans with her husband, Judge James Wickersham. Grace Schaible learned those values and practiced them her whole life. Her amazing generosity with her wealth, her time and her skills trace, in part, to Deborah Wickersham. Grace Schaible, certainly for the whole time WC knew her, worked to imbue those values in the young lawyers she met. She did it directly and indirectly, both in conversation with her younger colleagues and in her incredible generosity. We are all better for it.

Some of you may have heard WC say that most civil trials are the result of one or more lawyers failing to do their jobs. That aphorism comes from Grace Schaible. So, yeah.

If WC’s fellow lawyers, if more Alaskans, can pay it forward as Grace Schaible did, Alaska will be a much better place.

And that might be the best possible legacy for her.

R.I.P. Grace Berg Schaible, 1926-2017.

(WC thanks JJT for the thought and the anecdote.)