“Remembering Judge Bruce Littlejohn”
Judge Cameron Bruce Littlejohn died on April 21, 2007, at the age of 93. Born in the small rural community of Pacolet in 1913, he was the youngest of the eight children of Cameron and Lady Sarah Littlejohn. His father, a farmer and a rural mail carrier, enabled five of his children to graduate from college. Bruce graduated from Pacolet High School where he played both basketball and baseball.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
In 1930, Bruce enrolled at Wofford College, commuting from his Pacolet home in a Model-A Ford. He completed his academic work at Wofford in 1933 with a major in English and a minor in Political Science. He entered the University of South Carolina School of Law. He was on the Debate Team and President of the Senior Law Class. Tuition at USC Law School in that day and time was fifty dollars a semester.
In 1936, Littlejohn hung out his shingle on Morgan Square, entering law practice with fellow Spartanburg attorney Claude Dunbar. To get to their office, clients of Dunbar and Littlejohn had to walk up rickety stairs between Broom’s Liquor Store and the Wigwam Pool Hall. Imagine their clientele!
The law office was equipped with one vintage typewriter, a potbellied stove, and a heavy black telephone. The two-digit telephone number was 64. “In those days, all a lawyer needed was a yellow legal pad and a pencil with a good eraser,” explained Judge Littlejohn.
Starting out in the middle of The Great Depression, the twenty-two-year-old attorney was short of only one thing – paying customers. After only five weeks in law practice, Littlejohn announced as a candidate for the South Carolina House of Representatives. His total campaign budget was $275.
THE WAR YEARS
Littlejohn was elected to the House of Representatives, serving from 1937-1943. He married Inell Smith of Inman in February 1942.
When the United States declared war against Japan, Littlejohn had a 4-B classification, exempting him from military service as a member of the State Legislature. He decided to resign his House seat and enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps because there was little need for an attorney’s professional services during the war. When Japan surrendered in 1945, he was sent to Manila in the Philippines to serve as a prosecutor of Japanese war criminals.
In 1946, after thirty-four months of military service, Littlejohn returned to Spartanburg, in time to enter the political race for his former seat in the House of Representatives. Not only was he reelected; he was also elected Speaker of the House, the youngest ever in South Carolina.
At the age of thirty-six, Littlejohn became one of the youngest judges in South Carolina, presiding in the Seventh Judicial Circuit. For the ensuing eighteen years, Judge Littlejohn served the citizens of the state with uncommon integrity.
He became one of South Carolina’s most able and exceedingly fair trial judges. His wit and courtly manner complemented his dignity and firmness. He earned the respect and admiration of attorneys across the state. He presided with a rare combination of legal knowledge and common sense, distinguished demeanor and charming humor, qualities earning for him a sterling reputation.
In 1962, following the untimely death of his beloved wife, Inell, Bruce was left with two young children, fourteen-year-old daughter, Inell, and eleven-year-old son, Cam.
In 1967, Judge Littlejohn became a State Supreme Court Justice. In 1984, after seventeen years as an Associate Justice, Littlejohn was elected Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Sixteen months later, at age seventy-two, he retired.
Even in retirement, Littlejohn continued to serve as Acting Judge of the Court of Appeals.
Judge Littlejohn was a writer. His legal papers have been donated to the South Caroliniana Society. He wrote more than three hundred speeches and penned 124 articles for The South Carolina Bar Newsletter.
He is the author of four books. Laugh with the Judge is a collection of 180 humorous anecdotes from his storied career. Littlejohn’s Half Century at the Bench and Bar (1936-1986) and Littlejohn’s Political Memoirs (1936-1988) provide insight into South Carolina’s legal and political history through the eyes of a keen observer. A History of the South Carolina Judiciary (1930-2004) is a collection of articles written for The South Carolina Bar Newsletter.
In 1958, Littlejohn moved his office into the new Spartanburg County Court House, maintaining it until his death. He was a lawyer for more than seventy years. At age 93, he still rose early, prepared his own breakfast, and read the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and The Wall Street Journal. He spent a few hours in his office, writing or meeting with colleagues, often taking visiting judges to lunch.
Bruce enjoyed reading, especially U.S. News and World Report. He visited the Spartanburg County Public Library most Saturday mornings because the courthouse is closed. He perused the periodical section. He went to the YMCA every other day for a workout. His favorite exercise was swimming. In the evenings, Bruce enjoyed watching sports on television, especially college basketball and Atlanta Braves baseball.
During a speech last fall, Judge Littlejohn said he had recently been to the beach. “I was walking along,” he said, “when a lady wearing a bikini passed by. My impression was that her attire had been fashioned from one of my discarded neckties, but I was certain that there had been some fabric left over. I tried my best not to look, but I must confess that, just for a moment, I felt eighty again.” Judge Littlejohn was always young at heart.
A MAN OF FAITH AND HUMILITY
Littlejohn was baptized at Pacolet Baptist Church in 1924. Last Tuesday, he was buried next to his wife in the cemetery of that same church where his parents were active members when he was a boy. For Bruce, it was holy ground.
The last eight years of his life, Bruce was a member of Morningside Baptist Church. With a gleam in his eye, he would say of his pastor, “Each sermon he preaches is better than the next.”
Prayer was a regular part of the judge’s life. His favorite Bible passage was Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”
Littlejohn received many honors. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from The University of South Carolina, Wofford College, Converse College, and Limestone College. The South Carolina Bar Association presented him with the DuRant Distinguished Public Service Award. The Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce honored him with the Neville Holcombe Distinguished Citizenship Award. He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto by Governor Mark Sanford. The Boy Scouts of America recognized Judge Littlejohn as the Citizen of the Year, and the Salvation Army made him the Toast of the Town.
For all of his accomplishments, Bruce remained a man of humble character. When his official portrait was presented to the South Carolina Supreme Court, Judge Littlejohn was asked how he would like to be remembered. He reflected, “I determined long ago that a judge should not attempt to appease litigants, and certainly should never undertake to reward friends, or to punish enemies. I decided that if I acted on each case with a conviction that I was doing that which is right, people would appreciate me in the last analysis. And that is the way I would like to be remembered.”
Judge Littlejohn recounted an occasion when he was presiding at a session of court in the Midlands of South Carolina. A man called for jury duty asked to be excused from serving. Judge Littlejohn inquired, “Why do you want to be excused?”
The man responded, “Because my wife is going to conceive a baby today.”
The bailiff approached Judge Littlejohn and whispered to him, “Judge, this fellow is not very well educated. What he meant to say is that his wife is going to deliver a baby today.”
Judge Littlejohn replied, “Well, in either event, I think the fellow should be with his wife. Let’s excuse him from jury duty.”
An Old Testament prophet put succinctly the way we are to live. “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Judge Littlejohn was that rare jurist who found balance between justice and mercy. He did it with an unusual sense of humility. At his funeral, one of his many former law clerks commented, “He was a man who could walk with kings and never lose the common touch.”
It was my privilege to be Bruce Littlejohn’s pastor. On Thursday, before his death on Saturday, I sat by Judge Littlejohn’s bedside to pray with him. “I have no complaints,” he said. “My life has been blessed.”
He has blessed the lives of many others. After 93 years, Bruce Littlejohn leaves behind a rich legacy of wit and wisdom, humor and humility, fairness and faithfulness. I will miss him greatly. I will never forget him.
-Kirk H. Neely
© H-J Weekly, May 2007