Max Nathan, 2019 Presidents' Award Recipient

December 1 2019 | Committees

The New Orleans Bar Association bestowed the prestigious Presidents' Award to Max Nathan, Jr., at a ceremony held on August 28, 2019, at the Windsor Court Hotel. The Presidents' Award recognizes professional excellence, integrity, and dedication to service in the highest ideals of citizenship. 

Introduction

In life, as in theater, what comes before is prelude to what comes next, setting the stage for acts to follow. William Shakespeare said it best in The Tempest, Act II, scene ii: “What's past is prologue.”

This seems like a fitting way to start the BIO for MAX NATHAN, JR., this year's recipient of  the NOBA President's Award, described by current President, Jason Waguespack, one of Max's former students, as “the highest possible honor this Bar can bestow upon a New Orleans attorney.” It is chosen for a local lawyer who has shown a lifetime commitment to community service in the highest ideals of citizenship.

Receiving this award speaks to Max's past and to his present, and to what he has set in motion for the future. He thanks the profession he deems “a noble calling” for this award. His family is touched to have heard from so many people whose relationships with Max go back many years, former students, clients, colleagues, and friends. And we thank the New Orleans Bar Association for giving us extra time and space to do justice to the lifetime achievements of our father.

Max is a lawyer par excellence, a scholar, a teacher, an advocate for those in need, and, perhaps most famously, a teller of unforgettable and sometimes unrepeatable jokes. An astute historian with a lust for life and literature, he not only co-founded the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival and serves on its Advisory Board, but also participates annually in a live reading of a Shakespeare play with the New Orleans Shakespeare Society - at Antoine's, of course.

This year, the Bar sought to make Max's BIO more personal, to go beyond his legal and civic accomplishments and share how his past and personality have informed his life's work and place within the larger community. In other words, to describe what makes him so uniquely Max Nathan Jr. What follows is told in part through the words of people whose lives have been touched by Max and whose hearts and minds have touched his, and photographs that tell stories of their own.

The perfect place to begin is with a quote from the Honorable Jacques L. Weiner, Jr., Max's lifelong best friend and a now a judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals:

“Max and I were born six weeks apart in Shreveport in the depth of the depression. We attended kindergarten together, high school together; Tulane Law School together – albeit one year apart – and practiced law in Louisiana (him in New Orleans and me in Shreveport.) We have remained colleagues and friends for over 80 years, and – I can say unequivocally – that Max Nathan is the most brilliant person I have ever known personally. Not only that, he is also a true Renaissance man: attorney-at-law, law professor, Shakespearean scholar, musical afficionado, parent, grandparent, and true friend to untold hundreds. This bar association honors itself by honoring Max today.”

Jacques touches on many aspects of the task at hand: Max's extraordinary mind, his wealth of knowledge, his loyalty. His history of growing up in a Jewish family during the Great Depression in a small town in the Deep South. His love of the arts. And the fact that he never forgets his roots nor the people, schools, and values that began – are – all parts of the prologue of his life.

Jacques omitted only two critical things: (1) both he and Max were members of the 2013 Inaugural Class of Tulane Law School's Hall of Fame, and (2) the mischief these two made in their younger days in Shreveport.

 

Educator, Mentor, Friend for a Lifetime

Max has spent much of his adult life teaching at Tulane Law School, as faculty and adjunct faculty, and as renowned teacher of large portions of the Bar Review course. Paul Verkuil, past TULS President and longtime friend, says, “Max served the law school and state as a vital teacher, creative scholar and dynamic law reformer... On a personal level, I want to thank (him) for being my friend and confidant from the first day I arrived in New Orleans.”

Many in New Orleans still refer to Max as “Professor Nathan.” Joseph Maselli, Jr., a former student, said, “Max Nathan... set the bar for professionalism, ethics, compassion and work ethic.” The use of the term “set the bar” in that compliment would not be lost on Max, a master of puns and double-entendres. Even if no one else caught it, i.e., “SET THE BAR.”

Max was both feared and beloved by his students. Feared because he used the Socratic method of teaching, using argumentative dialogue to stimulate critical thinking as a way to find truth and question assumption, his students learned quickly to be prepared for class because, if called upon, the truth would be revealed, both to Max and to the class, that they were not prepared. But his students also respected him, because he challenged them. They appreciated the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the law and its history, and his ardor in passing that on.

Former students of all generations noted Max's true passion for teaching and his devotion to his profession.

Many – maybe all - former students recalled stories Max told that brought the law to life and in technicolor. And the jokes, those unmentionables...and, in earlier years, extra credit for material he could use in future classes. That famous sense of humor, the wit.

But, most of all, as a teacher, Max genuinely cared about his students. He wanted them to succeed. They knew and felt it. Some spoke of his “ability to connect.” Others, of his making time for them when time was precious, or explaining a complex case or principle in a way that a student could fully understand. This is why one cannot go anywhere in New Orleans with Max without someone coming up to shake his hand or give him a hug, and tell of something Max said or did that made a difference in his or her life. And here is a secret: every single time that happens, it makes Max happy.

Max in class with student.

Several years ago, Tulane's Law School surprised Max when dozens of its faculty and staff walked in at the end of his Civil Law Security Devices class, for which he wrote the coursebook. This was the last class of the academic year, and 2015 marked Max's completion of 50 consecutive years of teaching at his alma mater. Quoting from the article published by Tulane: “You have touched the lives of generations of Tulane Law Students,” Dean David Meyer told a shocked Nathan, to applause by faculty and a standing ovation from his students. “On behalf of our students, our faculty and alumni stretching back 50 years, thank you for your incredible generosity and passion.” Students called it “a privilege” to study with Max (L'60), champion of the legal profession and a founding partner of Sessions, Fishman, Nathan & Israel in New Orleans. (They) spoke of his unforgettable descriptions of clerking for Judge Wisdom, working on Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign, and once hugging First Lady Eleonore Roosevelt, true civil rights advocate and wife of FDR. And, a personal favorite quote from a happy student in that class: “One of the last things he said to us was, “You're going to love being a lawyer.” (tlsnews, 4/22/15)

Max at Tulane.

As a Professor, Max often went the extra mile. For example, he once discovered a truly outstanding paper while grading his final LA Security Rights tests. These papers were submitted anonymously. Max, eager to know the name of the author, contacted the Law School. When he learned it was Scott Duggins, he called Scott's parents to tell them that their son's paper was the best in the class. Said Betsy Duggins in a letter to the family: “It gives me goosebumps as I write...to express how unbelievably kind and thoughtful it was of him to do that.”

 

Max Nathan, Jr., the Attorney and the Man

People often describe Max as “warm” and “thoughtful.” (Other adjectives are used as well, but not for this BIO.) The characterization refers not just to clients, students, and colleagues, but sometimes strangers he has met and befriended at the Gospel Tent at Jazz Fest. Cassie Steck Worley, for example, who has served on the Advisory Board of the Tulane Shakespeare festival with Max for years, said, “Make sure to mention his kindness. And the way he makes you feel welcome right away. And brightens a room when he walks in. And that twinkle in his eye.” Cassie could just as easily have mentioned his support of the arts or immense knowledge of Shakespeare, something they truly share, but these are the words that came first to her mind.

However, by far the most commonly used adjective to describe Max Nathan, Jr., is “brilliant.” This word derives from the Italian, “brillaire,” to sparkle. In English, it means both “very bright and radiant” and “exceptionally clever or talented.” But the definition that seems to most capture Max's form of brilliance is this: “full of light, shining intensely.” For example, a star, or a many-faceted diamond. A glowing intelligence that lights up a concept or conveys the utter essence of something. That is to say, Max's brilliance is indescribable. He has a light within that is not necessarily about intellect but rather a constant curiosity and wonder. Like laughing at the Marx Brothers or listening to an audiotape of a Winston Churchill speech while riding his bike. Coming up with the perfect and hilarious answer to a benign question. Deliriously happy because the light is on.

You can't really define it, but, like pornography, you know it when you see it.

And that famous phrase, so often believed to be coined by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, another graduate of Yale Law School, was, in fact, provided to the Judge by his law clerk, who said, of pornography, “Mr. Justice, I can't tell you what it is, but you will know it when you see it.”

Max's kind of light is the same way. You know it when you see it. And the comparison in this BIO is intentional, because Max does not want a love letter. His own style of speaking, and being, is authentic, not sparkly. It makes people laugh and cry; it informs and gets into your head, or opens up a window. And very often brings out the glow in you, the twinkle in your own eye.

Readers of this BIO are likely aware of Max's many academic, legal, scholarly and civic accomplishments.They all reflect his sharp mind, big heart, and sense of duty to preserve the past while moving into the future. His value system is clear. It includes giving back to the community and leading when he hears the call. His achievements are summarized later in this BIO, but everything on the list defines him, his own past and that of his family of origin, and his present. But, being Max, he has other ideas about  accomplishment. In an autobiography he started several years ago, he proudly states that his “significant run of accomplishments” began at Pleasant Hall School in Shreveport, where he earned 10 gold stars for reading ten extra books in grade K. The framed certificate of those ten stars shares space in his office with other honors including a Lifetime Achievement Award for being one of America's top 100 lawyers, and membership in The Order of the Coif at Tulane Law School.

This is the epitome of Max Nathan, Jr., to see such things as equal.

 

Formative Experiences in Becoming an Attorney

Byrd High School, in Shreveport, LA, is the real birthplace of Max the attorney. There he made dear friends, became involved in debate and public speaking, and was a leader amongst students, supported by his teachers who, he admits, gave him “power,” which he enjoyed. He, with his team-mates, won several State Debate Championships. His exceptional debate skills earned him a full scholarship to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL., after winning a national debate competition. Many who know Max will recognize the proud, bemused look on his face in the picture of “the young orators.” He is smiling, the light fully on, as his fellow orators hold up their winners' trophies.

That same smile, which means, “Hell, yes, we won!” today might refer to winning a case in court, or correcting someone's French, or helping a family resolve what seemed like an impossible tangle, or telling himself a private joke. Or watching a daughter eat the last bite of crabmeat, then saying “Oh, but I was going to eat that.” Then laughing. It is a smile of victory, but victory as Max defines it. And sometimes it simply means, “Hell, yes, I won! What else did you expect?”

Distinguished attorney Carole Neff, Max's protege, then colleague, then co-author, called Max “an icon.” This also is apt. Many will recall Max cruising through town in a red 450SL with the top down, sporting a cap on his head and carrying two excited kids on the top of the (absent) back seat before cars had real safety laws. Or with a pipe, or throwing a party at Garden Lane for his students at the end of the academic year. Younger Max Nathan, Attorney-at-law, already was recognized as a rising star as well as an iconic figure in New Orleans, sociable, affable, a bender of rules and maker of mischief, not to mention a true mensch.

He just kept it up.

These vignettes all exemplify Max Nathan, Jr., i.e., considering a kindergarten prize equal to more serious adult awards, and to have such things share space, literally in the same room, or in his mind. The same goes for people. All share space in the same room, in his mind, in this world, in the eyes of the Constitution, and this is what Judge Wisdom had to say that made him one of the most legendary Judges of all time.

 

The Bar Review

Max taught large portions of the LA State Bar Review course to law school graduates for over forty years. So many people took this class, so many generations of lawyers, that it deserves its own section. The course was legendary for some reasons that need not be detailed here, but are notable, and bring smiles to many peoples' faces. But it is only in writing this BIO that a deeper reason for Max's unique approach emerges. He may have done it with intention, or maybe it was just his style, but he found a way to use humor and storytelling to ease the anxiety of the aspiring lawyers in those classes, to make learning and remembering EXCITING while preparing for the most important test of their lives. And while he loved doing it, he never phoned it in; he always prepared for the next class. When asked about this, he said the day he stopped getting butterflies before teaching was the day he stopped teaching.

Ironically, Max taught the Bar Review for decades, spent entire years preparing a unique and often literary version of its final exam, but never took the exam himself because, when he was in law school, it did not exist in Louisiana. A JD from Yale would not suffice to practice law in Louisiana. To practice in Louisiana, Max would have to attend law school in the state itself. And he wanted to marry Dotty Lee Gold, of Alexandria, LA, who was still in school at Newcomb, in New Orleans. So he left Yale in his final year, and transferred to Tulane. After graduating, he got his first job clerking for Judge John Minor Wisdom, which changed his life forever. And he married Dotty Lee Gold, whose father also was a lawyer, and they had four children, and a happy, beautiful marriage.

Max and Dotty Nathan

To teach the review course for an exam he was unable to take does not seem like poetic justice, but Max had great fun with that class, and kept it current. He said it kept him young and on top of things. And, in the end, not having a bar exam in Louisiana when Max was near gradation from Yale is what brought him to New Orleans in the first place, and so was prologue, too - not just for him, but for generations of young lawyers moving towards their own next Acts, becoming attorneys-at-law who would then begin stories of their own.

 

Academic Career: Max's Highlights

  • Byrd High School, Shreveport, LA: won many debate championships; school leader; now in their Hall of Fame.
  • Northwestern University, Evanston, IL: accepted on a full scholarship for Debate; voted class President his first two years, President of the Student Body Senior year; avid scholar of history; graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
  • Yale Law School, New Haven, CT: Won Moot Court Competition judged by the Honorable Stanley Reed of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge David Bazelon of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Spent second year studying law at the University of Geneva and learned to speak French fluently. Returned to Yale for first semester of third year but transferred to Tulane final semester.
  • Tulane School of Law, New Orleans, LA: Attended last semester of law school at Tulane in order to marry his fiancee, Dotty Lee Gold. Graduated with Honors, served on the Law Review and admitted as member of the Order of the Coif. Wrote two Notes and a Comment by detecting a significant error in the translation of the Napoleanic code from Latin to French and then to English, found in a critical LA Civil Code article concerning judicial mortgages.

RE: The Notes and Comment: The Napoleanic code was translated from Latin into French. Max had studied and spoke both. In reading one section, Max detected a key error. Specifically, the word, “actuel” had been mis-translated as “actual” instead of “at present.” This error led to a misreading of the entire code. Max's Comment won an award from the TULS Law Review, and, as a result, parts of the LA Civil Code had to be rewritten to reflect the accurate meaning. This was not the first nor the last time he would correct someone's French, but one can only imagine the smile, the same one he wears with the debate champions, when he detected that error.

 

Clerkship for Judge Minor Wisdom

From Tulane, Max applied to clerk for Judge John Minor Wisdom, a known Southern Republican, appointed by Eisenhower and described by Max as “Mr. Republican.”

Max, a true Democrat by today's standards, was a great fan of Adlai Stevenson and had worked on his Presidential campaign. In a speech in Richmond, VA in 1952, Max's hero had said, “We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.” (Past is prologue?) Another hero was FDR, the President who led us out of the Great Depression, enacted the New Deal, and defined American liberalism in a critical time in the 20th century.And Max's heroine was Eleonore Roosevelt, wife of FDR, early champion of civil rights for African Americans, passionate advocate for women, American workers, the poor, and European refugees coming to the United States during WW II. She also supported government-funded programs for artists and writers and oversaw the passage of the Universal Human Declaration of Rights when serving as a delegate to the United Nations. It is little wonder that Max admired this trio, but it could have cost him a job with one of the most memorable federal judges in history.

Judge Wisdom's first interview question to Max was, “What is the last book you read?” Caught off-guard, Max told the truth: a book about FDR. The esteemed Judge listened to the answer and proceeded with the interview.Talk of politics ceased and work began, as did a lifelong mentorship, friendship and beyond.

Max recognized Judge Wisdom as “a brilliant lawyer and part-time teacher,” describing his clerkship as “the most intellectually stimulating year of my life.” He was enormously influenced by Wisdom’s integrity and intellectual curiosity, characteristics that went on to define Max himself in every aspect of his life. And, as Judge Weiner points out, today the two would be more politically aligned than apart. One of Judge Wisdom's most famous decisions was writing for the majority in U.S. v. Jefferson County Board of Education in 1966; the rationale sounds like something Max Nathan, Jr. would say, based on the equality of all under the Constitution of the United States. And none of that diminished his admiration for Adlai Stevenson. In fact, Max visited Adlai Stevenson at his home, and has a picture of himself shaking hands with one of his many heroes, perched on a shelf right next to a sign signifying another, a photo of “Nathan's,” Max Sr.'s mens' clothing store in Shreveport, LA.

 

Scholar, Attorney-at-law, Civic Leader

Max is recognized both as a foremost practitioner and teacher of law. He co-founded the law practice Sessions, Fishman, Nathan & Israel, where he became well-known, along with his protege and, later, colleague, friend, and co-author, Carole Cukell Neff, for tax and estate planning. Together, Max and Carole wrote the definitive 3-volume treatise on estate planning and estate administration, used today by practicing attorneys and CPAs who work in that field. First published in 1992, it is in its 2nd edition and updated annually, therefore always current.

In terms of legal practice, Max is perhaps most well known for his specialty in the areas of tax law, successions, trusts and estate planning. His teaching is widely credited for bringing a new appreciation to an entire generation of attorneys for the needs of minorities, the disadvantaged, and all who have historically suffered from discrimination in the state of Louisiana. He is credited with working to change the civil laws of Louisiana to establish community property, making wives equal to husbands in their estates.

As a leader in the legal community, he has served on numerous Louisiana State Bar Association and Louisiana Law Institute committees, tasked with updating and reforming laws in keeping with the times and the changing world in which we live. He also has written many scholarly articles and the coursebook for the Securities class he taught at Tulane.

Throughout his life, Max has been deeply involved in various religious, philanthropic and civic organizations of New Orleans. He served as Chapter President of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and helped established its Torch of Liberty Award, which he received in 1992. The brochure for that ceremony said that Max had “established a standard of concern for others unparalleled in its creativity in raising awareness as well as funds for worthwhile endeavors.” He also served as Chairman and a member of the Executive committee of the New Orleans chapter of the ADL.

He is a past President of the Jewish Endowment Foundation (JEF), where he established a Donor Advised Fund, signed the JEF Book of Life, and oversaw the creation of the New Americans Holocaust Memorial Fund. He also established the Annual Tzedakah Award Program, an Award he won in 2006. He is a past President of Jewish Family Services (JFS) and a 1992 winner of its own Torch of Liberty Award. In addition, he has served several terms on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans as well as on the Boards of Temple Sinai, ADL, and JEF.

After his wife's death, Max created, through JEF, The Dotty Gold Nathan Memorial Lecture Series, bringing to New Orleans, at no cost to the public, esteemed professionals in the field of mental health and related areas, and speakers with progressive, civic-minded and important messages. Some former speakers include Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, and, more recently, Gloria Steinem. The establishment of this memorial fund encouraged many other families and foundations to later create similar funds to achieve their philanthropic goals and honor loved ones.

Finally, Max has supported humanitarian causes, serving on the Board of the New Orleans Mental Health Association and as President of the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Project. An avid art lover and collector, he also is a member and patron of various local museums, as well as organizations that promote music, the arts, and public television. He makes gifts to Yale, Tulane, Northwestern, and other academic institutions, and to environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy. And – to reinforce what a mensch he can be - he stopped going duck hunting with Jacques Weiner – or at least he said he did - after all four daughters refused to eat the ducks that had been shot on those infamous and joyous hunting weekends with the Shreveport genius gang.

 

Additional Contributions

Although Max did not graduate from Yale Law School, he has been an ardent supporter, serving on the alumni Executive Committee for years, and attending their annual meetings to stay abreast of advances in the law and to remain heavily connected with the Law School he so dearly loves.

 

Value System as Informative of Choice of Area of Expertise

Max's value system, of being good to others and passing on what is known to the next generation, is  reflected in his dedication to teaching and mentoring throughout his lifetime, giving of his time, financial support, and patronage to causes about which he cares deeply. His specialty in the area of successions, trusts, and estates also reflects that value system. The common themes here are relationships, i.e., true connections with other people, and communities, be they families, firms, committees, schools, or an entire city, in which all are equal and committed to a common cause.

Former student Michael Botnik summed it up beautifully: “Max (creating) dialogues that promote exchange and tolerance is only the first small step. (He) continues to create relationships that both stress our common humanity and celebrate our differences.This connectedness, and Max's appreciation of what has come before and what is possible in the next Act, i.e., his awareness that past IS prologue, has made estate planning and successions an excellent fit, along with being able to work with families, another obvious value, and creating and sustaining legacies.

 

Successions

The softer side of estate planning involves helping people and families prepare for their futures and those of their loved ones. But the actual work can be emotionally intense, pushing people to face the reality of mortality, address strained relationships, or surface unresolved conflicts being acted out through the legal process. This requires not only empathy but a mind that works in a certain way, i.e., grasping that an inner drama is being performed with characters, living or not, on the outside. This aspect often is not consciously known to the client(s). It takes true compassion to help release that inner drama and get to the heart of the matter, which can be disturbing, enlightening or both. It requires a special touch to allow hurting people to speak openly yet safely about such dark or painful issues as loss, death, anger, sorrow, and the passing on of people and generations.

Max has always taken great pride in helping families work through such issues, and, when possible, repair what had been broken, so a past gets to be a prologue and not the last Act. And he is perhaps most widely recognized as an expert in this field, as well as in tax law. His understanding of the layered, complex relationships involved, and knowledge of the most current laws around successions, trusts and estates, evoke his clients' trust. Along with true skill and depth of understanding, Max's genuine concern for his clients' well-being and literal and emotional security in these areas set him apart, making him both an exceptional attorney and a COUNSELOR of law, in all senses of that word. In fact, Max's ability to connect is mentioned by almost everyone contacted for this BIO, particularly his way of making people feel safe and important, by being available, and by “getting it.”

Not every attorney is cut out for working with loss and death. Or with its effects on families. But Max knows whereof he speaks, given the early death of his beloved father, Max Sr., in 1963, and the untimely loss of the woman for whom he gave up getting a law degree from Yale.

When Dotty became ill, Max could be found in only two places: at the office, or by her side. After her death, he founded a Memorial lecture series in her name, as noted. Thus, Dotty's past became prologue to a succession of esteemed speakers giving talks about everything from mental health issues to male sexuality to feminism, the latter a particular interest of Dotty's. Since it began, countless people have spoken to members of the Nathan family about personally being helped by one or more lectures.This Fund was Max's idea, as a way to keep Dotty's message going, and to share it with others. Managed through JEF, it exists in perpetuity, so there will be no epilogue. The speakers will keep speaking.

 

Some Other Company Max Has Kept

Former student, colleague, and dear friend, Judge Anita Ganucheau, says, “Max was never too busy to help a new attorney. I remember calling him immediately when I was assigned my very first case – a succession with a concursus in it. (To this day, I have never run into another attorney who has ever handled such an animal). Max talked me through it and kept me from jumping out of my office window in despair.”

These two remain lifelong friends. And that friendship is particularly significant because it began at a time in history when women were fighting hard for equality.

Anita Ganucheau is listed as one of the most important feminists of the 1970s. She worked to to eliminate Louisiana's “Head and Master” community property system in favor of joint management of community property. She also lobbied extensively throughout SE LA in support of the ERA (which still has not passed and it is 2019.)

Friendships like this, and meetings of open minds, also reflect Max's true belief that all are equal under the law and in his own eyes. His earlier work with Judge Minor Wisdom solidified these convictions, and, over the years, Max has practiced what he preached through his civic and legal involvement outside the office or courtroom. ADL, in particular, seeks to combat anti-Semitism, and teaches people of all ages to see each other as equals and not “other than.” Stated simply, ADL is about helping people to follow the Golden Rule and taking note when they do not. And Max has schooled Courtney, in particular, in such civic work, mentoring and guiding her to become not only involved but a true leader in the Jewish community and in other civic and social justice organizations, a legacy she proudly but quietly promotes.

There are other ways of passing things on that are less overt. Sometimes Max was teaching without knowing it. For example, Robin White, Max's secretary of 26 years, said the following about working for “Mr.Nathan,” a title that, to her, rivals only that of being a mother:

“I have seen and known so many different sides of (him) over the years.  He truly had a way with words. It showed in his clever final exams for his Security Rights class or insightful letters carefully explaining the law or gently correcting someone’s French.  I heard it all and learned so much from him. I have seen firsthand how he always put people at ease by sharing a glimpse of his personal side.  He had a way of opening up and making people feel comfortable from the first conversation. Whether it was the initial call or the first meeting with a client, Mr. Nathan had a way of making people feel like they knew him personally from the beginning - that was just part of his charm. He is one of a kind – and I was blessed to be part of his life at Sessions for 26 years.”

 

The Roots: Max's Prologues

Max Jr. was born to Max Nathan Sr. of Shreveport, LA, and Esther Arnof Nathan, of McCrory, Arkansas. He had a younger sister, Ruth.

The Nathan family came from a line of Jewish immigrants who fled Lithuania in the late 1880s due to overt and deliberate oppression and financial deprivation of the Jews there. Max was the first grandchild in the third generation in the U.S. With five uncles and one aunt, he was a true prodigal son. His father owned a men's clothing store in Shreveport, LA, as did Max Jr.'s grandfather in a nearby town. Max's closest uncle, Sol, owned farmland in Cottonplant, Arkansas, where he grew crops of cotton, corn, soy, and other grains, and owned yet another store called Nathan's, as did Uncle Joe in Jackson, Tennessee.

Like so many Southern Jews of this time, the Nathans of this generation spread out in small communities across the South, finding ways both to assimilate and succeed while staying close enough to reach a synagogue and each other. Young Max Jr. would help his father at the clothing store, sometimes sneaking up to the top floor to stick a long pole out of the window to knock the hats off of unsuspecting men waiting for the bus. No matter how many times Max Sr. chastised “Maxie” for doing this, it was endlessly entertaining, and he did not learn that lesson, i.e., don't go fishing for peoples' hats. He did learn from his father, however, a true work ethic and how to run a business. Max Sr. also was the only merchant in town to extend credit during the Depression.

Max's mother, Esther, from McCrory, LA, was a concert pianist enrolled at a conservatory when she met Max Sr. Stories vary as to how this meeting occurred, but they all involve a train between Shreveport and Cottonplant, Uncle Sol, and poker. At any rate, Esther and Max Sr. fell in love, and Esther gave up the conservatory to marry Max Sr. and help run the store. She also played piano and gave lessons at their home. She can be credited with introducing Max Jr. to his passion for music, taking him to his first opera, La Traviata, when the Met brought it to Shreveport, and teaching him about classical music and opera. He later heard Maria Callas sing live multiple times around the world and heard Pavarotti perform Nessun Dorma at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he had box seats despite not living in New York. His love of music persists, and he is a long-time supporter and patron of the LPO, New Orleans Opera Association, and Friends of Music.

History repeated itself when Esther, who so loved music, gave up becoming a concert pianist for love and when Max Jr., who so loved Yale, gave up graduating from its Law School for the same reason.

Max's Uncle Sol taught him about farming, as well as business, saving money, and the the value of hard labor. He helped Max admire and appreciate those who worked the land. Sol made what started as a few acres of cotton field into a vast farming enterprise, teaching Max every aspect of the business, and inviting him into the family of farmers who made the farm itself possible and successful. Humble and witty, charming and sarcastic, when Sol died, Max followed his uncle's wishes, to run the farm as Sol had done, investing every dime of profit back into the farm. But first, as per Sol's request, he walked  through the small, poor town of Cottonplant, Arkansas handing out $100.00 bills to every single person who lived there.

Ironically, or maybe not, according to a 2018 article in the NYT, Cottonplant, recently down to a population of under 700, is being revived as one of five almost lost towns in the U.S, by being selected as a cite for growing crops of what will become medicinal marijuana. Who knew that cotton would be the prologue for that?

Finally, one cannot over-emphasize the importance of being Jewish as a major influence on Max throughout his life and until today. His Jewish heritage has been past and present, and will be future, with many, many epilogues. His paternal grandparents had a prearranged marriage, and some of the descendants on that side of the family perished in a small village in Lithuania during the Holocaust. Max Jr. is the last male in the succession of Nathans that began with his paternal grandfather, Schmul Nachim Sargensky, a merchant renamed “Sam Nathan” at Ellis Island, so the last name “Nathan” ends with Max Jr. - but the family and the legacy do not.

 

The Immediate Family of Max Nathan, Jr.

Max and Dotty Nathan created a warm, loving home with hot days in the swimming pool and many pets and friends around. They ensured that their daughters received the best possible educations and were exposed to worlds beyond New Orleans, geographically and otherwise, including an awareness of the suffering and needs of others. Max strongly encouraged his daughters to have professions and be independent and strong, each in our own way. One thing we sisters all share is that, when Dad was at work, whether with a client or judge, or at a firm meeting, if the phone rang and it was one of us, he would say, “Hold on, that's my daughter calling.” And take the call.

After Dotty died, Max became partners with Fran Swan, and they have been together for over 30 years.

 

From Max's daughters, Nancy, Kathy, Marcy and Courtney:

“While I was working at the SPCA, my father was teaching the Bar Review course at Tulane every summer. The lectures were broadcast to all of the law schools in Louisiana. He offered to let me bring dogs to class occasionally to see if we could find homes for them since we had a large and receptive audience. We placed several dogs in homes with some really grateful law students! There was even one student who named his new dog “Max” in my father’s honor.  My father taught me the art of collaboration and creativity in problem solving. He is truly “sui generis.” - Nancy Gold Nathan

“Dad introduced me to music, French, and literature from an early age. He gave me the nickname, Sarah Bernhardt.The Shakespeare version of what he taught to me, as a lawyer and a person, would be: “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Polonius, in Hamlet, Act I, scene ii ) This is the epitome of my father as attorney and all else. Be who you are. He taught me to weave music, poetry, puns, double-entendres, and jokes into my own writing and public speaking. But my favorite thing of all is talking about his cases with him, because he understands the psychology and psychopathology of legal work. I have learned more from him about unconscious motivation and how it plays out than almost anyone else. I think of him as a psychoanalytic attorney.” - Kathryn Leigh Nathan

“My father has been an excellent role model. He has always supported me, and believed in me, and pushed me and encouraged me to be my best.” - Marcy Lind Nathan

“I have special memories of going to class with Dad, particularly the Bar Review. I loved going to the office with him on Sundays. I would roam the empty halls, raid the storage closet for notepads and pens, eat m&m’s from his desk, and imagine what it would be like to be a superhero lawyer like my Dad.

Mostly what I learned from watching Dad work is what it means to really, truly love what you do. I learned that it’s possible to love your work, to look forward to what you do every day and to excel at the highest levels without sacrificing who you are as a human being. Finally, I learned civic duty from Dad. I watched with pride as he welcomed refugees into our home, fought for equal rights for all and stood up for those in need.  I will be forever grateful for the lessons I have learned from my father and for all of the ways he has shaped me as a person.”- Courtney Nathan Singer

 

Max with his daughters from left to right:
Kathy, Marcy, Max, Courtney and Nancy.

 

Max's Grandchildren

Max has four exceptional grandchildren, Caroline, Emily, Audrey and Leo, all of whom have been raised with the same values described in this BIO. You can see the happiness in Max's eyes as he stands proudly with them in the picture below.

Max with his grandchildren from left to right:
Caroline, Audrey, Leo and Emily.

 

Conclusion

Many people think of Max as an authority figure. Professor, Attorney-At-Law, an expert on estate planning and successions who argued and won cases before the Supreme Court of LA. And he is all of those things, and more. But he also has been a pupil. Sometimes by necessity. Sometimes he needed to turn up his emotional hearing aid. And that he learned to do from the best possible teacher, Dotty Lee Gold Nathan, who made sure that Max understood what is most important in life: tuning in. Being present. And learning that made him an even more exceptional lawyer. And father, and husband, and person. And he learned too from Dotty something each of us should remember: Life is finite. Time is now. Despite the possible epilogues.

Love should win.

So, as Dotty would say, do your work, Max, but leave your lawyering at the office, and come home to your family. And he always did.

End

 

Written by Kathryn Leigh Nathan, Ph.D., with love and thanks for her sisters' many invaluable contributions. On behalf of the Nathan family, we appreciate the New Orleans Bar Association for honoring and recognizing our father, Max Nathan Jr., with this very special Award.



« back to News