When Kirbie Knutson and I began clerking for Justice Abrahamson in September 1977, she was not only the newest member of the court, but also — since hers was the only chambers with a magnetic card typewriter — the most technologically advanced. I point this out to dazzle Peter Chen, whose recollections of Shirley’s “ruthless” commitment to ever more research, analysis, revision, and re-editing we all can relate to and love. Just imagine “ruthless” before computers, Peter! (Spoiler alert: She made it work.)
I am not surprised that so many of Shirley’s clerks have written to describe, with fondness and pride, the work ethic that Shirley demonstrated and expected back from us. There was a magic to working with her. She imbued us all with her enthusiasm, her love of the law, her insistence on the importance of the court’s work, and her commitment, in every case, to doing her best to get it right. She inspired us, taught us, and made us feel that we were integral to an important, meaningful process.
And as lofty as that might sound, she did it all not as a god, but as a friend. Our work days felt warm and fun, and we never doubted that Shirley genuinely cared about us and our families and futures.
One particular memory has always summed up for me the pure enjoyment Shirley found in her work. It was very early on a gray morning and I had just dragged into the office, clutching my coffee, intent on finishing a project that she and I had worked on together late into the previous night. I entered to find Shirley already at work at her desk, and when she saw me she called out cheerfully, and without an iota of irony or guile, “Hello there! Isn’t this fun!”