'Hope' Filled: Longtime lawyer had special formula for his success in life

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Formerly associated with The Googasian Firm in Bloomfield Hills, attorney John Rogers was the product of a big family. Some 100 brothers and sisters, in fact.

He spent his formative years on a 2,000-acre farm near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the home of Vassar College. It was a place that spawned “Hope” for Rogers, whose unsettled childhood in New York City would eventually give way to a life full of academic and professional achievements.

Rogers, who practiced law for more than 55 years, died May 31 at the age of 97 after suffering a fall in which he hit his head, according to his daughter Ann Marie. It was a tragic end to a life that was particularly well-lived, said noted attorney George Googasian, a longtime friend of Rogers.

“John was an absolute prince of a fellow,” Googasian said. “He also was an excellent lawyer, who took his roles and legal responsibilities seriously throughout his career. John was very much a man of ethics and high character. He was everything a lawyer should be. He had a lot of admirers – and deservedly so.”

Googasian, a former president of the State Bar of Michigan as well as the Oakland County Bar Association, has had his own firm since 1981 and was proud to welcome Rogers into his legal sphere as an Of Counsel member for a period in the 1990s. The two first crossed paths in the mid-1960s, shortly after Googasian completed a two-year stint as an assistant prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.

“I actually ‘drafted’ John not too many years after we first met,” Googasian said with a smile.

It was 1966 and the Democrats needed a candidate for the 65th District race in the heavily Republican region of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. Googasian, a longtime political activist, was charged at the time with finding suitable Democratic candidates for state and local offices. Suddenly – and decidedly by chance – Rogers became his guy.

“It was a Saturday morning, on the last day that candidates could declare for office, that I bumped into John on Saginaw Street in Pontiac,” Googasian recalled. “I knew of him and his politics a little, so I asked him if he would consider running for state rep against Bill Hampton, the Republican incumbent. I told him that it would be a tough race.

“John was hesitant, saying that he didn’t know anything about running for elective office or about mounting a campaign,” said Googasian, who eventually convinced Rogers to run, even fronting him the $100 fee to declare for office by noon of that day.

As political fate would have it, Rogers lost – by a landslide. But Rogers, ever the staunch Democrat, looked back on the political episode with a sense of pride.

“It was when exit polling was first being used,” Rogers recalled in a 2007 story in The Detroit Legal News. “Some 30 seconds after the polls closed at 8, they determined the winner – and it wasn’t me. I still believe it was the quickest political knockout in state history.”

Googasian, in turn, said that the loss had a “bright side” of the long-term variety.

“Whenever John, Bill Hampton, and I would get together, we always had more than a few laughs about it,” said Googasian of Rogers’s abbreviated political career. “John was always a good sport about it, even teasing Bill that the outcome could have been different had there been a rematch.”

While he may have been a political neophyte, Rogers became acquainted with the legal system at an early age, bouncing around as a ward of the court from the time he was 6 years old and a first-grader. It was a legal journey he shared with his “real” brother and sister, children left in the wake of a broken family during the depths of the Great Depression.

“Times were really tough then, as they are now for many people,” said Rogers, who during his career maintained a busy practice in probate law and estate planning. “My sister, brother, and I were lumped into the same boat, trying to find a home where we could make a go of it.”

They did at Hope Farm, a combined community for underprivileged children and agricultural operation that was fueled by a military-style regimen that instilled a sense of discipline and purpose into kids of all ages. It was run by the Episcopal Diocese of New York and for Rogers and his siblings, it was a godsend.

“We lived in cottages of 30 kids, where you were up at 6 a.m. and in bed by 9:30,” Rogers said in The Legal News story. “Everything was very regimental. Breakfast was at 7 and was a half-mile away from the residences and if you didn’t get there in time, you missed out on the meal, plain and simple. They didn’t cut you any slack. It took some getting used to, but you learned the ropes in pretty short order.”

From the time he was 10, Rogers was entitled to work on the farm, toiling in the fields, plowing, seeding, and then harvesting. It was a course in “Agriculture 101” for a boy with his roots in Manhattan.

“I didn’t know anything about farming, but I learned a lot in a hurry, especially about the importance of hard work and teamwork,” he said. “There is nothing easy about farming, but there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction that you derive from seeing the real fruits of your labors. We canned everything we grew and we were a self-sustaining operation.”

Rogers quickly found his footing at Hope Farm, earning the respect and admiration of his “house mother” and “house father.” He exhibited a strong work ethic, which when coupled with his academic promise and natural athletic ability made the once wayward boy stand out. Rogers was a two-sport star in high school, playing quarterback on the football team and serving as captain of the baseball squad.

“Even though we were a small school, we regularly beat some of the best prep schools in the area,” Rogers said with pride, noting that he graduated in a class of just 13. “We were always in top condition, which I’m sure came from all the time we spent working on the farm.”

He graduated from high school in 1941 at the tender age of 16, eventually finding his way into the Army Air Corps where he dreamed of becoming a pilot during World War II. Instead, he was an aerial gunner in a B-24 bomber, spending a year overseas in New Guinea, the Dutch Indies, and the Philippines.

According to his daughters, Ann Marie and Susan, Rogers “often recounted many stories of the brave men and women who served in the armed forces during World War II, kept a photograph of his squadron on his desk for inspiration, and is remembered as part of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ an American hero.”

His military service also afforded Rogers the right to avail himself of the G.I. Bill, which allowed him and countless others the opportunity to attend college.

He followed his brother, Douglas, to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and then transferred to Yale University, the Ivy League school where his father had graduated. Rogers tried out for the baseball team at Yale, which was captained at the time by a talented first baseman who would make a name for himself in politics.

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States and the father of the 43rd.

While baseball stardom would not beckon for Rogers, he did enjoy success in the insurance field after graduation, saving enough money to attend law school at the age of 30. He spent one semester at George Washington University before transferring to the University of Michigan Law School, graduating in 1957.

His first job was with one of Pontiac’s largest law firms, a three-attorney office that included several lawyers in their 70s.

“I can remember at the time, in my early 30s, of thinking that they were really ancient,” Rogers said of the senior partners. “I even grumbled one day about one of them who kept repeating himself. A colleague reminded me not so gently that, ‘John, someday you’re going to be old.’ I got the message.”

An avid runner well into his seventies, Rogers completed a number of marathons and was one of the founders of the “Race Judicata,” the annual run presented by the Oakland County Bar Association.

At The Googasian Firm, Rogers was in good running company with founder George Googasian and partner Tom Howlett, attorneys who also have conquered the 26.2-mile marathon distance.

Howlett, a Harvard grad who earned his law degree from U-M, said Rogers “personified a ‘glass half full’ outlook” on life.

“He was always brimming with interest and optimism about what the day might bring, what he might learn, and who he might have the pleasure of seeing, even when dealing with adversity of one kind or another,” Howlett said of Rogers.

“On many Saturdays before his retirement, John and I would often find ourselves at the office space that he shared with our firm,” Howlett recalled. “He loved discussing a newspaper clipping and yearned to hear about the latest case. I appreciated hearing about the ‘old days’ of practice in Pontiac and about my grandfather, Harold Howlett, who died before I was born. When my then-young daughters would join me on these weekend stretches at the office, they inevitably would drift down the hall for lengthy chats with the genial Mr. Rogers who took such a keen interest in their activities and achievements. 

“I last saw John when he dropped by the office one day just before the onset of the pandemic. Then well into his 90s, John came in with the aid of a cane — and a Post-it note to remind himself about what he last recalled about my now-adult daughters so he could receive updates,” said Howlett, a past president of the OCBA.

“John will be more than missed because, in this day and age, his genuine good-heartedness is so very rare.”

Rogers – who was preceded in death by his former wife, Sally, and his longtime companion, Jan Hatcher – will receive full military honors at a memorial service on Friday, July 1 at 1:30 p.m. at Great Lakes National Veterans Cemetery in Holly. It was his wish that memorial contributions be made to No Place Like Home Rescue of Michigan, P.O. Box 80721, Rochester, MI 48308.


 

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