He Left Them Laughing When He Said Good-bye by Grant MacEwan – Patrick “Paddy” Nolan was a colourful Irish lawyer who arrived in Calgary in 1889. He had been classically educated at Dublin University and Trinity College. With a restless spirit he passed up New York City, too lonely a place for a stranger, for Calgary, a roaring town on the prairies.
Nolan quickly became known for his humour, acting talent and courtroom skills. Paddy lived life with gusto. Always ready for a drink of whiskey he was a convivial and large companion weighing about 300 pounds. He had an abundant collection of jokes and stories..
My favourite parts of the book were the courtroom scenes where his wit and fierce determination to win every case made him a formidable opponent.
Often appearing against him was Prime Minister, R.B. Bennett, some decades before he became Prime Minister. Where Bennett would arrive in court loaded with books of learned precedents Paddy would rely on his knowledge of the facts and passion. One memorable day Bennett was, rather officiously, calling out for the boy to get texts for him as he made his argument. When he was done Paddy called on the boy to get him Bennett on Bluff.
(In a reflection of how details of a story vary with the telling the Dictionary of Canadian Biography recounts the anecdote as:
“Boy, give me Phipson on Evidence; Boy, give me Kenny on Crimes.” Nolan broke up the court when he uttered, “Boy, get me Bennett on Bologney.”)
In another case, doubting the alleged victim in a fight suffered an injury that prevented him from lifting his arm above his shoulder Paddy asked him how high he could lift his arm since being injured and groaning the man lifted it to his shoulder. Paddy quickly followed up with how high could he lift it before being hurt and he raised his arm significantly higher to the amusement of all present.
After Nolan had considerable success representing alleged cattle thieves the Stockman’s Association retained him to handle prosecutions. While he was successful Nolan was at heart a defence counsel and gave up his retainer with the Association..
Paddy lived in Calgary as the town became a city at the end of the 19th Century. Then, as now, Calgary was filled with energy. Oil had not yet become dominant. At its heart the city still had a cowboy culture.
In the 21st Century it is hard to think of lawyers in Western Canada renown for wit in court. Occasionally there is a funny story or a well said remark but there are fewer characters in the courts. We are the worse for not having modern Paddy Nolan’s to enliven court proceedings.
In Nolan’s era crowds attended court, interested as much in the performance of the lawyers, as the evidence. As late as the 1970’s when I started practising law a good crowd could be found at courts in rural Saskatchewan to see the show.
Shortly before his unexpected death it was reported that Nolan advised his fellow Knights of Columbus to “seek justice, hurt no living creature needlessly, and plant the seeds of laughter”.
MacEwan quotes a fitting farewell for a man such as Paddy in “I shall not wholly die. What’s best of me shall surely ‘scape the tomb”.
While Nolan was a lively companion to many the Dictionary of Canadian Biography sets out life at home was difficult because of his drinking:
"According to lawyer Ronald Martland, Nolan's son Harry, who was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1956 (he died the next year) 'very seldom spoke of his father' because of the problems he caused his mother, and was determined never to follow in his footsteps. Harry's wife maintained that Paddy kept his wife short of cash and established no relationship with his son, even leaving his schoolboy letters unanswered."
The author, a prolific chronicler of pioneer Western Canada, actually grew up in Melfort. He was a solid writer content to let characters tell their stories. There are no dramatic embellishments. Unfortunately this book does not really flow. When he wrote the book MacEwan was 85.
(This review is an update of a review I published almost 10 years ago.)