Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Josiah Henry Peck was born in Bristol, Connecticut, March 5, 1873, the son of Miles Lewis and Mary Harriet (Seymour) Peck. At that time Bristol was a community of approximately four thousand inhabitants and it was there he spent his youth. After graduating from the Bristol elementary and high schools, Mr. Peck attended Yale University receiving the degree of A. B. in the year 1895. From there he went to Harvard Law School and in 1898 received his LL.B. degree. He went directly to New York City, where he was admitted to practice law that same year. After three interesting years in New York with the law firm of Brigham and Bayliss, Mr. Peck came to Hartford, was admitted to the Connecticut bar on November 8, 1901, and opened his own office. About a year later, on November 12, 1902, he married Maude Helen Tower of Providence, Rhode Island. Mrs. Peck, the daughter of a Baptist minister, had spent her youth in Bristol and graduated from Bristol high school in the class with Mr. Peck. Mrs. Peck died January, 12, 1940.
Mr. Peck maintained a law office in Hartford continuously from his admission to the Connecticut bar until his death, May 28, 1940. Except for that brief period during which he was in partnership with the late Benedict M. Holden from the early part of 1921 until December, 1924, Mr. Peck practiced independently. His ability and knowledge of the law soon made him an outstanding member of the bar and gained for him the statewide reputation of being a lawyer's lawyer. In fact, the greater part of his business was brought to him by other attorneys looking for his advice and assistance.
Although Mr. Peck was a prodigious reader on all topics, English history was a favorite subject. He was unusually familiar with the growth of the British Empire and continued to read about it even during his last illness. This interest naturally familiarized him with the spread of civilization, and the utilization by man of the scattered resources of the globe. One cannot absorb details of adventure which record the expansion of the English speaking peoples without becoming intimate with all parts of the world. But it was the people he met on these expeditions which interested him most. His reading was so extensive, his information gathered from so many sources, that he saw the characters in their truest forms.
So it was in everyday life. Mr. Peck saw people as they were. No rank or position, or lack of it, affected his vision. All people had feelings. All had desires. All strove for what they believed would be the most conducive to their happiness. Some were ambitious, others not. Some were energetic, others lazy. Some were kind, some cruel. But all were some of each. And if the mixture in the individual were more of this than that, it was. In his own way, with his own qualities each was groping for happiness. Mr. Peck's ambition was to help the stragglers or those who had fallen, or had been tripped by heedless fellow travelers. It was not his to criticize or demand reparation, but to assist the human back to the social road.
Life to Mr. Peck was an episode to be enjoyed. In 1921, he was offered an appointment to the Superior Court bench which he declined. Although his makeup was strictly judicial, he appreciated the universal fallibility of man and would not be the one to pass sentence on those apprehended and prosecuted. He realized that that task must be done by someone, but he was not going to do it.
Card playing was Mr. Peck's hobby. He was reared in a whist-playing family and was loyal to the game in all its forms. He was an ideal partner in any game. He could be depended upon to play expertly, while he never condemned his partner's play. He believed criticism would merely upset his partner and thereby promote disaster in subsequent play, while it could not possibly retrieve the loss. Also, most people realize when they have misplayed and criticism merely irritates. That characteristic of Mr. Peck's was not confined to the card table. His most praised possession was a small gold pin composed of two gears to which was attached a crank. On this pin was engraved S.S.W.C. which meant Select Society of Whist Cranks. This society is composed of thirteen of the best whist players in America. To be elected to this society is to achieve the highest honor among whist players.
Nevertheless, law was Mr. Peck's profession and to him it was always a profession. He never specialized in any particular branch but accepted what diversified business came to him. The only employment he refused was that having to do with business advice. If a legal problem were involved he would gladly tackle that, but he adhered faithfully to strictly legal advice. It was the drama of life in which Mr. Peck was interested, not the accumulation of wealth. Problems affecting people's feelings appealed to him, not problems affecting their pocketbooks alone. His sympathy and understanding were deep but they did distort his vision. If he were not convinced of the justice of his client's claim or position he was a very poor advocate. Although familiar with all the tricks of advocacy he considered them so repugnant to justice that he could not use them.
Mr. Peck had the rare ability of seeing the crux of any problem however complicated the facts might appear. To him the vital question was always visible - never changing. Added to this was a charming habit of directing attention to the issue by a witty remark. There was usually a bit of subtlety in his humour which made the point sink deeper, to be remembered longer. There is probably no one who knew Mr. Peck who does not remember vividly some humorous remark he made, and more likely many. This was because his quips told a story. They were not merely to amuse, but were more to make the thought remembered. They had the effect of making the point and sealing it with humour.
In 1941, Mr. Peck was elected president of the Hartford County bar association, and held that office at the time of his death. His election was a gracious tribute from a bar for whose members individually and collectively, he had done so much and the honor was deeply appreciated by him.
Mr. Peck was one of that refreshing minority who believe the law is a profession; who practice is leisurely with the purpose of promoting justice; in whom the fire of ambition does not outshine or consume the spark of charity.