Admiring the Entrepreneurial Spirit


Last week's investiture of Fred S. McChesney as the de la Cruz-Mentschikoff Endowed Chair in Law and Economics prompted many tributes, not only for Professor McChesney but for the two people whose names grace the chair, Carlos M. de la Cruz, JD '79, and Soia Mentschikoff, who in 1974 became the first female dean at the University of Miami School of Law. One of the tributes came from Alexandria Mentschikoff Levedahl, the late dean's niece, who was unable to attend but who sent a written statement. It is reproduced here:

On behalf of the Mentschikoff family, I want to express our pleasure in the establishment of the Carlos de la Cruz-Soia Mentschikoff Endowed Chair in Law and Economics and the appointment of Professor McChesney as its first holder. I know this would please Soia immensely.

Soia came to the Law School with a plan. Although I cannot speak to that plan, I can speak to the love and devotion she gave to the school. The establishment of this chair all these years later I hope speaks to the continuation of the path she began.

It would be particularly meaningful to her that Mr. de la Cruz and Professor McChesney were her students. I cannot speak in Soia's voice, but I can imagine that she would have congratulated both Mr. de la Cruz and Professor McChesney on their successes in their respective endeavors. Then, with a glint in her eye, congratulated Mr. de la Cruz on his wisdom in establishing the chair and then congratulated Professor McChesney for wisely accepting the appointment.

She would be particularly pleased to have her name associated with Mr. de la Cruz. Soia was a great admirer of the entrepreneurial spirit as exemplified by her close friendship with Jim McClamore, co-founder of Burger King and former chairman of the university's Board of Trustees. Her grandfather followed that spirit to America and both her father and brother continued in that spirit. One day, when we were house hunting in downtown Coral Gables, Soia told me that her father, my grandfather, had once owned land there that was sold during the Depression. I asked her where and she told me that it is where the Biltmore Hotel is now.

You may not know that Soia too had an entrepreneurial spirit. For those of you who were her students, faculty, staff and friends, you can easily picture Soia walking the halls of the Law School in her sneakers with her hardhat on "supervising" her various building construction projects.

She loved construction and real estate in her private life. Most family vacations included some house hunting. It was not unusual to have an annual vacation include family members (and even guests) painting walls, refinishing floors or hanging doors on a property she was flipping (although I don't think that term was used at the time.) She also was an expert in staging a home long before it became the hip profession it is now. More vacation time was spent furniture and accessory hunting in second hand and "antique" stores. Soia was particularly fond of the entrepreneurial spirit of the Maine natives. She once commented to me that the Maine residents would spend the winter banging up their furniture with chains to sell to us in the summer as antiques. This was said with amused admiration.

Finally, on a more serious note, I know that Soia would have found some way to address the legacy of Karl Llewellyn. The most important thing in the world to Soia was that Karl and his legacy not be forgotten. Not being a lawyer myself, I don't know the words she would have chosen. When I expressed my frustration to Kathleen Swan, she suggested I use the following quote from Karl's The Bramble Bush:

"You are to begin the disentanglement forthwith ... all of this that goes on in class, but an excuse to start you on a wilderness of other matter that you need. The thicket presses in, the great hooked spikes rip clothes and hide and eyes. High sun, no path, no light, thirst and thorns – I fear that is no cure. No cure for the Law but more Law. No vision save at the cost of plunging deeper. But men do say that if you stand these thousand vicious gaffs, if you fight though to the next bush, the gashing there brings sight."

To view photos from this event, click here.