I was lucky to be a kid around my father, Jack Caldwell, a consummate achiever. While he stepped left or right or straight ahead along any of his extraordinary achievement paths, I could follow along without thinking, absorbing his moves as second nature. In his legal practice, which centered on oil and gas law, his cases usually involved conflicts for which there was no precedence. As he wandered into the unknown, I could see him gather his resources, articulate a clear vision of many layers, and trust his mind to isolate the critical values upon which the whole hung. I could see his depth of mind working through his ventures in real estate, banking, oil and gas, civic endeavors, education, or government. In all cases, he penetrated the uncertainties with leadership and brilliance, and brought into being something that wasn’t there before, but naturally became part of the social fabric afterward.
I am perhaps most grateful to his focus on language, where he had deep thoughtfulness and career applications about the precision, capabilities, and limitations of words. Sitting beside him as a child on the kitchen sofa, I read bar exams he graded, asking him how he knew when one was good or not. Even though I was in grade school, he showed me the best examples, pointing out the clear story, narrative, or cogent opening statements. I could see the characters coming alive easily in their words, and could follow the threads of their analysis among parallel sentences, strong verbs, and clear nouns. And he showed me the worst examples, pointing out the scattered ideas even I could recognize as hodgepodge and trumped-up redundancies. So much depends for these law students on how well they attend to their words; so much depends for all of us, in all fields.
I also followed his threads on language when he was president of the Louisiana Law Institute, a body where legislators, judges, and attorneys meet once a month to discuss the law. When charged with rewriting sections of the legal code, he and his colleagues brought in linguists to help remove ambiguities, hidden meanings, redundancies from the language—probing the limitations and possibilities within language itself to meet the actual intent of the legislation. They worked the language, wringing out hinderances with special discipline, all to make the subsequent legal processes that rely on that language easier to manage. It was not hard to imagine the effect on the lives of people in a courtroom, neither slipping into chaos because of poorly written laws, nor slipping through the legal intent toward an unfair or unintended outcome. It was not hard to imagine, in all areas of life, to care about words and their impact.