WILMINGTON — Words like reliable, steadfast, enduring, professional and endearing come to mind when remembering Wilmington College’s longtime legal counselor, Frederick J. Buckley. Similar references can be used in describing the now 178-year-old Scottish desk he used for many years while one of the area’s most prominent attorneys-at-law.
His son, Daniel J. Buckley, gave the college this venerable antique desk upon his retirement from practicing law this month. The gift complements the endowed scholarship he and his wife, Ann Marie Tracey, recently funded in memory of his father. The college-managed Frederick Buckley Scholarship was established to assist students interested in studying toward careers in law or a law-related field.
“The college was very important to him. It was part of my father’s childhood and professional life — and mine,” Daniel Buckley said. “This is my way of honoring my father through an institution he deeply cared for. I believe Wilmington College is a place where this historic desk will be appreciated and keep on giving as it has since 1840.”
Indeed, the elder Buckley — “always interested in things English and Scottish” — purchased the desk in 1975 through a Cincinnati antique dealer, who had the desk, which was built with fine hardwoods in Scotland in 1840, shipped from Edinburgh. The exquisite piece of furniture is known as a partners’ or barristers’ desk in that it features two complete sets of drawers and leg space to accommodate two persons, often law partners, working closely across from one another.
Before he retired, Frederick Buckley, who died in 2012, gave the desk to his son, also an attorney who has worked on behalf of the college. In 2002, its appraised value had increased more than five-fold. The Buckleys have used the desk for parts of five decades, during which time one or the other, or both, counseled WC presidents Robert E. Lucas, Neil Thorburn, Dan DiBiasio and Jim Reynolds.
“A lot of important Wilmington College business was conducted at that desk,” Daniel Buckley said, noting that his father — who was known throughout his career as “tough and honest” — represented the late Meriam R. Hare, whose $3.5 million estate gift established the Quaker Heritage Center at WC. “My father was the quiet voice behind the scenes on a lot of significant work involving the college,” Daniel Buckley added.
Frederick Buckley, whose family lineage in Clinton County goes back to 1813, enjoyed an almost lifelong association with the college. As a child, he engaged in many Boy Scouts activities held on campus and his uncle was W.R. Pyle, the much-revered, mathematics and physics professor at WC in the mid-20th century. Uncle Russell’s influence undoubtedly affected his nephew’s decision to become the first in his family to attend college.
He was enrolled at WC for a year, joining the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity and serving as freshman class president, before World War II interrupted his studies. He ultimately graduated from the University of Michigan, where he also earned his law degree.
In recognition of his service to the institution — for both his invaluable legal work and his term on the WC Board of Trustees (1980-86) — the college conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2004, which was something his son said was among his father’s most treasured accolades.
“My father had a childhood and professional history with the college and he had both a personal and professional loyalty to the institution,” he said. “He always recognized the college’s importance to the community — educationally, culturally and economically. It distinguishes Wilmington from a lot of other county seat towns.”
Daniel Buckley considered himself as the desk’s steward, rather than its owner, and Ann Marie and his siblings support his decision to present it to the college. On Dec. 20, a moving crew made its way to the 36th floor offices of Vorys Legal Counsel in downtown Cincinnati to move this piece of history into President Jim Reynolds’ office in WC’s College Hall.
There’s no word yet on whether a card, which Frederick Buckley kept in a left-hand drawer and passed on with the desk to Daniel Buckley, will, in turn, be presented for Reynolds — the desk’s new steward — to discover.
It reads: “I am at the mercy of any fool who can aggravate me.”
Randy Sarvis is the director of public relations at Wilmington College.