Uncle Mack Hangs Up His Spurs

Yesterday I got an e-mail from William Mack Webner — known to me as Uncle Mack — announcing that he is officially retired from the practice of law.  His decision to retire marks the end of more than 40 years of practicing as one of the premier intellectual property lawyers in the country.

Mack Webner (right) at a 2008 conference

It has been a distinguished career, indeed.  Through his representation of the Elvis Presley estate, entertainers, and a wide variety of different commercial entities, Uncle Mack has played a significant role in the development of the law on licensing and marketing of personalities and protecting and enforcing trademarks and other forms of intellectual property.  As the American economy has grown to focus more and more on the value of concepts, brands, and ideas, intellectual property law has grown and adapted to respond to those developments.  Uncle Mack has been one of the agents of change.  He also has been very involved with his alma mater, the University of Akron, with various professional organizations, and with various community groups.  You might say that, through these different activities, people have seen him “in triple focus.”

Because of these other interests, Uncle Mack is not one of those people who have let their work define them, so that when they retire they feel lost and uncomfortable without a job to tether them.  I know he wants to work on his golf game (what retiree doesn’t?) and he and Aunt Corinne still have a lot of exploring to do in Savannah, Georgia and its environs.  He’ll keep reading, and thinking.  I expect that I will get book recommendations from him, as I always have; he was an enthusiastic proponent of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Watership Down, among many others.  Uncle Mack no doubt also will continue to be as open to trying new things as he always has been — whether it is experimenting with woodworking or finally writing that novel that he and I used to talk about when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s.  You would expect nothing less from a man who made his career dealing in the world of ideas.

Grok

Today I met with the new class of summer clerks at our Columbus office and, in discussing legal research, used the word “grok.” Of course, none of these clerks had heard of the word, or the book Stranger in a Strange Land from which the word came, or its author Robert A. Heinlein. Well, what do you expect? These folks didn’t graduate from high until after 9/11.

For the record, “grok” means to understand at a complete, intuitive level, and I’m glad to see that on-line dictionaries, at least, recognize the word. It is hard to believe, though, that Stranger in a Strange Land has faded into obscurity. The book was popular among kids when I was growing up, and the word “grok” was used with some frequency in everyday conversation. (Hence, the saying: “I grok Spock.”) What’s next? Will people forget Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or Watership Down and the joys of silflaying under the moon?