July 29, 2002
Me and Charlie Bane
When I went to work as a legal secretary at the Chicago law firm of Isham, Lincoln & Beale, Charles Bane was the senior partner. The year was 1979.
How I got the job is only a little remarkable. I was visiting Chicago with a friend. When I learned I was going to Chicago, I decided to see if I could land a job. First I met with the assistant office manager, Joanne. She liked me enough to pass me on to the office manager. I think his name was Bob Milner. I'd like to think the reason he decided to hire me was that he was impressed with my credentials. In retrospect, though, it became apparent that he hired me because he knew he could get me for cheap.
Initially, the firm didn't have any positions available for a permanent secretary, so they made me a floater. That is, someone who would go from lawyer to lawyer when his secretary was away for a day or more. The secretaries were organized in pods of four so that they wouldn't be more than a few steps from their main boss.
One of my first long-term assignments was for Bill Caruso. Bill was "of counsel" and for some unknown reason he didn't have a secretary. Bill's pet project was the Chicago Leadership Council. His office was between Larry Lasky's office and Ron Jack's office. One door up from Ron Jack's office was Mr. Bane's office.
I wish I could remember better what Mr. Bane said that first time he called me into his office. I have a vague recollection of him explaining that he had heard I was from Springfield. He had either represented the City of Springfield in a major lawsuit, or had represented another client in a major lawsuit against the City of Springfield. Since one of Isham's major clients was Commonwealth Edison, I think it's safe to assume that whoever he represented in the lawsuit, it had something to do with electricity.
At first I was a little wary. The scene didn't quite make sense. Here was the senior partner of one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in the world having a little chat with someone who was really no one. I had expected the attorneys would rarely interact with the staff on anything but a professional level. But, Mr. Bane quickly put me at ease once he revealed his motives. He was looking for someone with whom he could discuss the Lincoln family. He suspected that since I was from Springfield I would be that person. And he was right.
During the little more than a year that I worked at that firm, Mr. Bane and I would get together at irregular intervals to discuss the Lincolns. Unfortunately, other than what I had read in books, my knowledge of the Lincoln family consisted only of mindless and unverifiable gossip. On the other hand, Mr. Bane had rock solid information in the form of documentation.
The Lincoln in Isham, Lincoln & Beale was none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Mary and Abe who lived to be an adult. Mr. Bane had taken upon himself the title and job of curator of the firm's files from the Lincoln era. Lining the walls of Mr. Bane's office were volumes of fragile correspondence from the Lincoln days. Mr. Bane was more than willing to let me view those volumes whenever I wanted to, as long as they didn't leave his office. Mr. Bane was well acquainted with the contents of those volumes and would answer any questions I might pose.
In the Spring of 1981 I left Isham, Lincoln & Beale for a higher paying job. Mr. Bane and I never saw each other again. But I never forgot about him.
Some years later the firm merged with another large Chicago firm. Unfortunately, the merger was little more than a swallowing up of the Isham, Lincoln & Beale name. In a sad turn of events, Mr. Bane, who had already retired by the time of the merger, lost his pension because of the merger. Perhaps you could say his partners sold him out.
To this day, I still wonder what became of those volumes of correspondence I can only imagine they are crammed in cardboard boxes in a dark and damp warehouse somewhere on the south side of Chicago, long forgotten.