Professor “Bernie” Adell and What He Meant to Us
There are some people in this world who will change it before they leave. As a mentor to generations of Queen’s Law students, Professor Bernard (“Bernie”) Adell was one of those people. Bernie made a real impression on me and I know that there are countless Queen’s students and alumni who feel the same way.
One of Bernie’s contributions to Queen’s was as Faculty Editor and Advisor to the Queen’s Law Journal (“QLJ“) for the past 20 years. Many Queen’s Law students start their legal career as volunteers for QLJ and, in recent years, the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal (“CLELJ”). I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Bernie as a QLJ and CLELJ volunteer and I hope these paragraphs explain why.
Visiting the QLJ office as a volunteer can be intimidating. Senior editors peer at you over thick-rimmed glasses and thicker laptops and, although friendly, they always seem to be working on something of unthinkable importance. I first had the chance to see Bernie in action when I visited the QLJ office close to a major deadline. He was working with students at the center table, going over tough passages with them line by line. It struck me that Bernie didn’t have to roll up his sleeves to get the job done. He was intuitive, sharp, and a natural teacher. On top of that, it soon became apparent that the “old man in the corner” had a very big heart.
Bernie could often be spotted hauling a fresh mug of coffee back to the QLJ office, a ritual that required scaling several flights of stairs. In order to save Bernie the trip, I made my most valuable contribution as a volunteer editor—installing a Tassimo coffee machine in the QLJ office.
My purpose was twofold; I hoped that the free-flowing coffee would help unleash our team’s creativity during long days of editing, but I also hoped that it would prevent our star faculty advisor from getting so tired that he would collapse. While he appreciated the gesture, little did I know that Bernie had better cardiovascular fitness at age 74 than most 20-somethings, myself included.
Soon after first-year ended, I saw Bernie next to the Kingston courthouse. We began talking and when he asked about my summer, I expressed some disappointment about exams and being unemployed. As Bernie had been a law professor at Queen’s since 1964, it was likely a story he had heard many times. Nevertheless, he listened carefully and offered me a project with the labour journal. Bernie’s vote of confidence was uplifting. He did that for many people throughout his career.
While the coffee machine was soon discarded as a fire-code violation, Bernie and the senior editors decided to keep me around for another year. During that time I learned that Bernie would do anything he could to help an editor find an author’s voice. We could be devastatingly confused or frustrated by challenging articles, but Bernie would always guide us back to the core principle of our editorial work: bringing our authors’ ideas out in the clearest possible way.
Bernie showed us how to be soft on people and hard on paper. Arguments were meant to be disputed. Fluff was to be eliminated. Student editors were challenged by his emphasis on detail, clarity, focus, and order when it came to the written word. Our authors were challenged in turn. We all benefitted greatly.
A professor who worked closely with Bernie shared with me that honesty and fearlessness were traits that Bernie carried throughout his academic career. He led by example and showed us how to challenge conventional thinking, convey arguments clearly, and mentor the next generation. Professor Bernie Adell’s impact will be felt for years to come in the Canadian legal community. Thanks for all you’ve done, Bernie. We’ll miss you.
Ivan Mitchell Merrow is a columnist for Juris Diction. He is in his final year of the JD/MBA program.
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