Ralph Olney Wells was born in Hartford January 27, 1879. His father, Daniel Halsey Wells, was actuary of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company. From him Mr. Wells acquired proficiency in accounting. He continued to make his home in Hartford until he retired from active practice and moved to Andover a few years ago.
His early education was received in the public schools of Hartford. He then went to Yale, where he and William M. Maltbie, present chief justice, were roommates, and from which he graduated in 1901. He received the degree of LL. B. cum laude from Harvard in 1904. In 1908 he married Mary Ida White, who, with two adopted sons survive.
Following his graduation from law school, Mr. Wells was admitted to the Connecticut bar and commenced practice in the office of Robinson & Robinson. On April 1, 1908, he became a member of the firm of Perkins & Perkins. He remained with this firm under successive names until the time of his death, becoming the senior member of the firm on the death of Arthur Perkins in 1932.
In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Wells was interested in many public and private activities, having been a member of the Hartford common council, the city plan commission and the board of street commissioners of that city. He was a deacon of the First Congregational Church of Hartford, a charter member of the University Club and the Civitan Club, and president of the Get-Together Club, the Hartford Federation of Churches and Connecticut Congregational Club. As long as health permitted, he was active in both the state and local Y.M.C.A., for many years as director on the local board and, following World War I, as president of this organization. Among his professional associations, he held membership in the American Bar Association, the bar associations of the state and county and the International Association of Insurance Counsel.
He was an independent thinker and a staunch champion of any cause in which he believed. This led him to decline a most attractive offer of professional employment as he wished to remain entirely free to express his views on any moral issue. Those who have had the privilege of many years' association with Mr. Wells bear testimony to the seriousness with which he took the oft-repeated charge to new members of the bar, that "The law is a jealous mistress." It was his habit to reach the office earlier than most of his associates and invariably to stay until after all, or most, had left. Through many years of his practice he worked alone in his office Saturday afternoons and many evenings a week, as well as most of those days of the year which are commonly observed as holidays. This was not due to any inability to work rapidly but to his giving personal attention to each matter a client referred to him. He thought rapidly, and one of his outstanding virtues was his ability to think straight. He never fell into the error, which is not uncommon with members of the bar, of letting cases similar to, but not on all fours with, the case being discussed lead him aside from the real point in issue. He was very thorough in his study and in his preparation of cases, having such a desire for perfection that he was not satisfied with a brief until it had been entirely rewritten from three to five times.
Mr. Wells never in any way forced himself upon other lawyers as a teacher, but when any attorney, whether an associate or an outsider, sought his advice, as they frequently did, he was never too busy to hear his "brother's" problem and he was always ready with a helpful suggestion. The trial of a case was such a joy, he seemed to take greater pleasure and satisfaction in it than in any form of recreation. He was especially happy when working on a case which at the outset appeared to be hopeless.
Mr. Wells was commonly known as the author of the Public Utility Act of the state which has stood for many years with little change. He also played an important part in the writing of the Workman's Compensation Act, and, as much as any other lawyer, contributed to its interpretation by his many appeals in this field to the Supreme Court.
His ability to handle figures made him a formidable opponent in legal accounting cases, as was found by directors of the Columbia Trust Company and of the Windsor Locks Savings Bank. Reference is made to Lippitt v. Ashley and associated cases reported in 89 Conn. 451. After sitting as a committee of the Superior Court for more than forty trial days, the late Frank Hagarty remarked that there was not another lawyer in New England who could surpass Mr. Wells in his understanding of the interrelationship of law and figures and in a masterful presentation of a legal accounting case. This ability as a legal accountant well fitted him for his appointment as foreman of the grand jury which in 1928 investigated the stock brokerage activities of R. W. Watkins & Company. He was also foreman of the grand jury whose report checked wide-spread violation of the liquor laws in the early thirties.
To his opponents in the court Mr. Wells was known as a fighter, and any attorney when starting a trial knew that, if he was successful in the lower court, the chances were overwhelmingly in favor of Mr. Wells' taking him to the Supreme Court. This is borne out by the fact that personal records and briefs show that he appeared before the Connecticut Supreme Court in more than 135 cases.
For many years his health was such that he could have been justified in remaining at home. With indomitable will and courage, however, he continued his practice, appearing in court when it was difficult for him to get around and when his hand trembled so that it seemed impossible for him to read the paper he was holding. Until comparatively recently he attended every short calendar session of the Superior Court, and when his moving from the city made his attendance at court less regular he still continued to go to his office. His will to carry on was spoken of constantly by members of the bench and bar.
After a third of a century of almost daily contact, it is with deep satisfaction that one records an associate's absolute integrity and notes that, no matter how bitter the feeling between clients, he would never become a party to their bitterness nor stoop to any conduct even bordering on the unethical. It may also be recorded that in all these years Mr. Wells was never known to raise his voice in anger nor to use a word of profanity or irreverence.
Mr. Wells died December 16, 1946, and in his passing the bar has lost one of the best legal minds, but, by his life, the law of this state has been enriched, and those who had the privilege of association with him have been inspired to think straighter, to be calmer and to be more thorough in their handling of legal problems.