Judge Wilson Cowen: R.I.P. A Very Decent Man, Singularly Dedicated to the National Courts, Dies at 101
It was announced with sadness today that Retired Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Wilson Cowen, passed away on Sunday, at the age of 101.
I recall vividly being a young lawyer in practice in Washington and the commemorative celebrations for what was then his 50 years of dedicated service to the national courts – and he was still going strong. Judge Cowen was appointed a commissioner of the United States Court of Claims in 1942 and promoted to Chief Commissioner in 1959. In 1964, fellow Texan, President Lyndon Baines Johnson elevated him to Chief Judge of the United States Court of Claims – a position in which Cowen served until he assumed the status of senior judge some 13 years later. When the Court of Claims was folded into the newly minted U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1982, Judge Cowen continued to serve as a Senior Circuit Judge through August 1, 1997.
For the young law clerks in the National Courts Building, Judge Cowen’s five-decade commute to the same office stood for two remarkable propositions: The first, is that even in an age where dramatic career changes were commonplace, it was still possible to have a path in the law that was both briefly summarized and very far-ranging in its impact. (We often giggled that his resume could fit squarely and comfortably on a single index card – whereas his contributions to our law could not be justly summed in the space of many card file drawers.) Likewise bewildering and important to the young, is that it was possible for a lawyer to work for a half a century with the same set of workmates and never (as far as I know) prompt an angry or bitter word. I daresay, without fear of contradiction, that Judge Cowen was the dearest and gentlest man any of us clerks had ever known in Washington.
A singular man and role model is gone. May God grant peace to all who mourn.