Sharing memories: Honoring alums George K. Fadel and Roger Thompson

Jun 21, 2024 | Alumni

by Lindsay Wilcox

This article was originally published in the spring 2024 issue of Res Gestae.

The College of Law recently introduced a brand-new way to celebrate older alums and, on the same day, honored both the class of 2024 and graduates spanning the decades at the annual Alumni Awards. We’ve spotlighted just two of the attendees—George Fadel and Roger Thompson—below.

As good as gold: Recognizing a half-century of College of Law graduates

Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner, left, stands next to 103-year-old George K. Fadel
Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner, left, and George K. Fadel

George K. Fadel, who turned 103 on Dec. 20, began law school in 1941 and finished just one year of his degree before shipping out to North Africa and Italy with the Army ROTC. When World War II ended in Europe, he enrolled again at the College of Law, graduating in 1948.

“Most everybody was in general practice, focusing on divorces and probations,” Fadel recalled about his time in law school. “Specialties didn’t come along until at least the ’80s. When I graduated, there were about 50 or 60 people in my class. In 1953, they graduated 100 people. Cal Rampton [attorney and later Utah governor] said, ‘I don’t know where all these attorneys are going to get clients. I don’t know where my next client is coning from.'”

Fortunately, Fadel was able to find work, serving as city attorney for Bountiful, Utah, before becoming the mayor in 1954 and later working in his law office until age 100.

When Fadel was a new graduate, he had lunch frequently with James E. Faust, also a 1948 graduate and a Utah representative for whom the Utah Law library is named. Within their first year as alums, Fadel and Faust took a criminal case together, representing a store owner defending his business.

“Without knowing all of the ins and outs of criminal practice, we were able to reduce a man’s sentence from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, and he served one year in jail,” Fadel said. “It was unheard of for freshmen lawyers to try a criminal case downtown. We got lucky.”

Fadel was just one of many who attended the inaugural Golden Gavel Society celebration on April 12, which recognized College of Law alums who graduated 50 or more years ago. Keynote speaker Ardeth Houde, who graduated in 1957, recalled being the only woman in her class, while Professor Jim Holbrook, who graduated in 1974, recounted the years of turmoil surrounding the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War when he finished law school.

“To some extent, our lives have been a blur. We’re confronting our own mortality,” Holbrook said. “It is lovely that you created this experience that we can all share with one another and to celebrate who we’ve become: truly decent people who deserve the honor of being recognized by our law school, by our alma mater.”

See more photos from the Golden Gavel Society in our Flickr album.

Honoring alumni and welcoming the class of 2024

The College of Law’s annual Alumni Awards celebration was also held April 12. Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner recognized Alumni of the Year winners Roger Thompson (’67) and Jim Holbrook, Spirit of Quinney award-winner Kelley Gale (’79), and Young Alumni of the Year winners Gabriela Mena (’17) and Laura Leon Rubiano (’16). Graduating students also received awards from the Student Bar Association, LGBTQ+ and Allied Lawyers of Utah, and Pro Bono Initiative.

Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner, left, and Roger Thompson
Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner, left, and Roger Thompson

In 1964, Alum of the Year winner Roger Thompson had recently graduated from Yale University and was trying to figure out what to do next. Since several of his high school classmates (Thompson had graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City) had been accepted to the University of Utah law school, he decided to look into it.

“I remember thinking that it was a good stopping point for a while, to see if I liked the law. I applied, and that’s history,” Thompson recalls. “The best part was the academic challenges. It was very stimulating and very interesting. I had a background in history as an undergrad, and some of these cases we studied arose from what I studied in history. I really enjoyed the people, both the students and the professors.”

Since Thompson graduated in 1967, he says the number of women attending law school has greatly increased and also applauds the increase of opportunities for students.

“There are probably more student organizations and student activities now. Back then, a lot of us were married and didn’t have time for extracurriculars. We went to class and studied, and that was about it,” Thompson says. “The law school is also in a beautiful building now that is really nice for students.”

After practicing law for a few years, Thompson partnered with his friend Jim Michie in 1973 to create a real estate partnership called TM Equities.

“I always had an inclination to be an entrepreneur. I’ve always been involved with my company in law in terms of zoning issues, environmental questions, titles, contracts, acquisition and disposition of real estate. One of the most rewarding things is having a great partner. With over 50 years together, we’ve never had a disagreement,” Thompson says. “Trust is important. Don’t force your opinion. If one of us doesn’t feel good about something, we don’t do it. We have mutual respect and trust.”

Though Thompson is semi-retired now and his son and partner’s son run TM Equities’ day-to-day affairs, he says he will probably never fully retire. However, his focus now is on giving back through the Roger H. and Colleen K. Thompson Charitable Fund, which also honors Thompson’s late wife, Colleen.

“I think so many of us at that stage in our lives are trying to figure out what our legacy should be and what we should be doing for the rest of our lives. The law school had given me a scholarship that I really appreciated. I had very little money at the time, and I didn’t really have to work except during summers,” Thompson recalls. “I felt it was a turning point in my life, and because of that I owed a debt to the law school. I want to help other people have the same experience.”

Thompson says the Golden Gavel Society, which he also attended, was an opportunity to see so many classmates he had known so well after so many years.

“It was a nice tribute to all these people that have survived the practice of law and thrived and represented their community and profession most admirably,” he says. “I also felt I wasn’t really deserving of the Alum of the Year award. There are so many able lawyers that have done so much good in the world. I was grateful to receive it.”

Despite his initial hesitation about the award, Thompson is quick to extol the values of a law degree.

“The practice of law, the skills you learn in law school—to read with skill and with detail, to write well and concisely, and most of all to think about things and to try to figure out what the real problems are and to solve them—are things that you can use in any activity and any profession,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities for people with that kind of training.”

See more pictures of the Alumni Awards on Flickr, and watch Roger Thompson’s video about the award below.