#182 – Dick Bernard: The Honourable Alan King-Hamilton

Alan King-Hamilton died in suburban London on March 23. He was 105. I learned of his death in a phone call from his daughter, Mary. She suggested that the Telegraph had a good obituary of her Dad. The obit catches him well.
It was, to greatly overstate the case, unlikely that I would ever have known, much less met in person, Mr. King-Hamilton. His career included many years as a Judge in London’s famed criminal court, the Old Bailey.
Nonetheless, back in early November, 2001, at the Royal Air Force Officers Club in London, we met Judge Hamilton for tea, and there ensued a continuing friendship until recent years when he became more frail.
That a North Dakota country kid would ever meet a London Judge was at best unlikely. The unexpected journey began in June, 1982, when my Dad and I and four others travelled to Quebec and took dorm rooms at Laval University. At our first meal there we met a lady with a British accent who was travelling solo, and we invited her to join us for a couple of days as we explored my Dad’s ancestral haunts in and around Quebec City.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I found out that the lady, Mary King-Hamilton, was the daughter of a retired English Judge, and it wasn’t until later still, on a trip to England in early November, 2001, that we learned that King-Hamilton was not just another judge, but one who had presided over some of the best known criminal trials during his time on the bench. Some years earlier, we learned that her grandfather, Alan’s father, was member #11 of the British Motor Club, the granddaddy of all Auto Associations.
Mary showed us around her world, including getting us a pass to view an Old Bailey trial in progress.
We went to Middle Temple, the hundreds of years old enclave reserved to members of the English Bar, thanks to the Judge.
In the library at Middle Temple, I saw a book which King-Hamilton had authored, and riffing through it saw two words, “North Dakota”, something which immediately drew my interest.
In 1927, he was President of the Cambridge Union Debating Society, and he and two fellow debaters came to the U.S. under the auspices of a program later to be known as Fulbright Scholarships, and during the Fall of 1927 they debated at about 30 different colleges and universities in the Midwest and Western U.S., and in Canada. Their second stop was at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where my father was then living. In fact, Dad would have been a freshman there at the time, but lacked the funds to enroll.
I learned that the Judge had a diary of his travels through the U.S. and asked permission to see it. A copy was sent to me. This caused several months of very interesting activity on my part, collecting information from all of the colleges and universities that King-Hamilton and his fellow debaters had visited. It was very interesting to note how the Englishmen perceived the Americans and vice-versa.
Were I to sum up his many pages of observations, I would pick this quote, where he sums up the America he’d visited for several months: “It is a curious thing that all down through the Middle West, from North Dakota to Texas, we have encountered religious curiosity which develops into something like intolerance upon the information being given to them. In the East they want to know who your father is, in the Middle West who your God is, and in the far West how much money you’ve got!” (In his 1982 book, “And Nothing But the Truth”, Judge King-Hamilton recalls this same question, and asks “I wonder if it is still the same now, more than fifty years later” (p. 14).
I’m richer for having known The Honourable Alan-King Hamilton.
I think of him every time I see or hear reference to Arianna Huffington, who many years later became the President of the same Debating Society at Cambridge.

Alan King-Hamilton, front and center, 1927 at Cambridge University