Pennsylvania Federal judge remains on the case at 95

By R. A. Walker

Williamsport Sun-Gazette

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- On Tuesday, Oct. 20, U.S. District Senior Judge Malcolm Muir began his 95th year of life.

About a third of those years have been spent as a federal judge, a job he continues to do to this day.

And it's been a long, full life so far for the dentist's son whose earliest recollection is the sound of church bells and sirens.

He was 4 years old and asked his mother for an explanation. "She said the war was over," he recalled, "'and your daddy wouldn't have to go.'"

The date was Nov. 11, 1918. World War I -- the war to end all wars -- had ended, and two decades later, Muir -- by then a successful Williamsport attorney -- would go off to a second world war.

The family lived in Engelwood, N.J., when Malcolm entered this world, the son of a dentist who soon after moved his practice to Williamsport, about 60 miles north of Harrisburg and south of the New York border.

Along with the home where the bells and sirens caught the boy's attention, the Muirs would move two more times during his childhood to other homes in Williamsport.

The world changed dramatically during Young Malcolm's school years. Movies began to talk; the Great Depression shattered millions of lives.

He remembers going to see his first sound movie. The actors were silent, he recalled, but there was background music. Muir said he no longer recalls the title or the names of the actors because bigger things were happening.

He remembers clearly learning about the collapse of the stock market while visiting the home of a friend whose father was a company treasurer.

Rich called the two of them into the living room to explain the news. "I think it's going to have extremely serious consequences," Muir recalled him saying.

Banks were failing while Muir was a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, about 100 miles southeast of Williamsport and 50 miles north of Philadelphia. As a safeguard, he withdrew half of what he had in his small account at a bank near the college and sent the money home for safekeeping after learning his father's bank had failed.

Young Muir was unsure of his future during most of his stay a Lehigh. He waited until his senior year to select law as a career and applied for admission to the law school at Harvard University.

He made it into Harvard and survived to earn a degree but was disappointed by his grades.

It was a very hard curriculum, he recalled. "I didn't do well."

According to Muir, Harvard's law school had a tradition at the time of flunking about a third of its students, and each incoming class was reminded that many of them would not last.

Of Muir and his five original roommates, only two of them survived.

Muir said he "barely got through." The other, John F. Kennedy's future postmaster general, James Edward Day, did much better, he added.

After Harvard, the young lawyer returned home and began practicing law. He married the former Alma Brohard and they raised five children in Muncy, about 15 miles east of Williamsport, where the couple lived until the 1980s. Mrs. Muir passed away in 1985.

In December 1941, the Muirs were living in a city apartment when war arrived. Muir recalled getting the news of the Japanese attack by telephone and having to ask a fellow attorney and friend where Pearl Harbor was located.

Muir joined the Navy in 1942 and went off to the war effort. His first son arrived soon afterward. Following the war, Muir returned and resumed his law career.

"I worked extremely hard," he said, describing a typical work day as beginning with his arrival at his city law office about 4:30 a.m. and lasting until 5 p.m.

Muir said the family had a "fine home" in Muncy -- a home which until about 1963 had no television set. Like many parents, the Muirs were concerned television would distract the children from healthier activities such as studying.

One day, a law partner asked one of Muir's sons what his favorite program was, and learned the boy didn't have a set to watch it on. A television finally invaded the Muir household after Muir's colleague gave the family a set.

As the years passed, culture changes continued to reshape the world at large, but Muir's world remained constant.

He watched the 1960s come and go and didn't take as seriously the cultural changes that occurred. "It didn't impact the way I lived or my family lived," he said.

In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon appointed him a U.S. District Judge -- a job he had long set as his ultimate career goal.

During a 2008 interview, Muir said he couldn't imagining any better job and described serving as a senior judge as exactly what he wants as his years advance.

Being a judge, he said, is what he enjoys doing most.

Muir said he is concerned about what is happening in the world, but he respectfully leaves what to do about issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "up to the president," who he believes has "done a fine job" to date, "given the circumstances."

He said President Barack Obama is "remarkably bright and thoughtful" -- characteristics recognized when he was elected senior editor of the Harvard Law Review by his fellow editors.

Once a registered Republican, Muir switched to "nonpartisan" when President Ronald Reagan made a series of judicial appointments for reasons with which he disagreed.

Muir has his own personal slant on life; and his greatest influence, he said when pressed, was a piano teacher with broad interests named Harold Pries.

"I learned dedication" from him, he said, describing dedication as working hard and doing your best at "whatever work you're doing."