44 years. In this mobile and fast-paced world, that’s a long time for two baby boomers to be friends. But the friendship between Eric (Rick) Mondschein and Ellery (Rick) Miller is alive and well. In fact, as they write in this mutual tribute to their friendship, it still continues to grow.
Have you ever been in a meeting when you thought to yourself, “If this doesn’t end soon, I’m going to die”?
I had such a meeting 44 years ago and then the person next to me passed me a note that read, “If this doesn’t end soon, I’m going to die.” I wrote back, “Me too! Want to have lunch?”
And so began our 44-year professional and personal friendship. My name is Rick and as it turned out, his name was Rick, so we seemed to hit it off immediately. We both directed law-related education programs for our states’ bar associations, we both liked to fish, we both read many of the same books and shared strange senses of humor.
As opportunities to work together occurred, we served on committees and boards of national projects and we connected at national conferences. One of the first conferences we both attended was in New York City and after a long day of long sessions, people were talking about going out in groups to continue talking shop.
But Rick and I realized that the first of the Mad Max movies was playing nearby. We decided to skip dinner with the groups and set off for the movie. It was interesting that there were only four of us in this huge theater. As the light dimmed my friend said, “That popcorn box on the floor just moved toward me!!” I thought he was joking, but then I looked down the row and sure enough the box was moving! Then as the screen lit up we could see hundreds if not thousands of mice and rats scurrying around, over railings and chairs, searching for food.
We decided to move to a row farther back that seemed to have less trash or food wrappings in it. As we moved back to our ‘safer’ seats I dropped my sunglasses on the floor and attempted to reach down and pick them up, when he said, “You do realize you’re talking to your hand?” And it was true, I heard myself saying, “You can do it!! Go ahead and pick them up.” But I couldn’t, so I sat on the armrests of the chair as he was doing and we watched the movie, yearning for the credits to run and the lights to come on.
Every time the screen got a little lighter we could see mice and rats everywhere until finally, blessedly, the movie ended and the house lights came on. Picking up my glasses we quickly exited the theater. When we saw an usher, we said he should go in there and do something about those damn rodents, but he said he wouldn’t go in the theater himself, as there were rats and mice everywhere. Such a bonding experience!
We came to realize that we both loved fishing, so we went fishing on the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. The first trip was so much fun and the Quabbin was so beautiful with crystal clear water, eagles, moose, geese sightings, and no houses, that almost every year we have returned for over 35 years. We even have seen a black bear. We catch and release the fish, taking photos of each. Our families sometimes say we just keep using the same photos over and over again, but we know better.
Our friendship impacted our professional lives as well, as we undertook many joint projects, writing proposals and obtaining funding to conduct conferences, workshops, and special events for students. We started mock trial programs in our respective states, Maryland and New York, and conducted the first interstate mock trial competition in the United States. We developed thousands of law-related education guides and materials for use by teachers, students, and attorneys.
We created and organized a program that brought Israeli students to the U.S. to compete against high school students from New York and Maryland, presenting oral arguments based on a hypothetical conflict over the Free Trade Area Agreement between the U.S. and Israel. Held at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s Center, it was an experience that the participants will never forget.
Based on our experiences working with schools and our mutual commitment to civil rights and equal protection for all, we went on to develop a consulting practice called EM Associates. It is focused on sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying prevention. It culminated in two publications, Sexual Harassment and Bullying: Similar, But Not the Same, and a companion resource guide published by the Education Law Association. And our efforts did not go unnoticed, as we were both awarded in different years the American Bar Association’s Isidore Starr Award for Outstanding Achievement in Law-Related Education.
So this friendship that began at a boring meeting has prospered for 44 years and is still growing and evolving. We have traveled to several different countries and almost every state in the Union. We’ve attended football games of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings, our favorite teams. We have argued and disagreed, caught many, many bass, skied together, and been there for each other in times of difficulties for our families and ourselves.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have laughed together, which might be the best basis for developing and strengthening a long-lasting friendship.