Ashley Pond died at his home January 12, 1910 in Detroit in his eighty-third year. By his death the University [of Michigan] has lost one of its oldest and most distinguished alumni.
Mr. Pond was graduated from the Literary Department in I854. After studying law for a little over two years, he was admitted to the Detroit Bar. At that Bar he continued to practice for about half a century, and when he died was its senior member.
Mr. Pond's career is an example to every lawyer and an encouragement to every young man of humble origin and narrow means. When Ashley Pond was a mere child, his father settled in Branch County, Michigan. The boy was born in Northeastern New York at the foot of the Adirondacks in November, 1827. His youth was spent almost on the frontier, with Indians as occasional uninvited guests at his father's fireside. To get funds with which to support himself while in the academy and college, he taught school, acted as clerk in a country store, did any work that came to his hand.
He was a mature man when he entered college, and 27 when he began to study law. By the time he was admitted to practice his father had died and he was charged with the support of an aged mother. To begin practice in a strange town is not too easy at the best. To have struggled till the age of 29 before getting ready to begin practicing is most discouraging.
In spite of his early struggles, or perhaps in part because of them, Mr. Pond sprang to the front almost at once. His splendid mind had been developed, not dulled, by his experiences. His capacity brought him early recognition. Within three years, says one who knew him then, he was deemed one of the very able men at a Bar at which in the meridian of their power were such men as. Jacob M. Howard, George V. N. Lothrop, Halmer H. Emmons and Charles I. Walker.
He early formed a partnership with J. P. Emmons. Mr. Emmons' health was bad, and on Mr. Pond for several years fell an enormous amount of work. In those days he often went to his office at daylight and worked a couple of hours before breakfast. As he was always an intense worker and a man of delicate rather than rugged health, this meant an almost over- whelming burden of business. Somewhat later he formed a partnership with the late John S. Newberry, a distinguished Admiralty lawyer. Later, Henry B. Brown became a member of the firm. Not very long afterward Mr. Newberry withdrew from practice, and for several years the firm was Pond & Brown. In 1876 Mr. Brown became United States District Judge, and later a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
After 1876 Mr. Pond formed no partnership. After 1882, he gave most of his attention to railroad matters. In that year he became General Counsel for both the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern and the Michigan Central Companies, and held those positions for about three years. The work was more than any one man, even so rapid a worker as Mr. Pond, could continue to do without breaking down.
He gave up the counsel work for the Lake Shore Company and devoted the larger part of his time for his remaining active years to the legal affairs of the Michigan Central Company. He did not, however, until quite late in life refuse entirely to take other than railroad business.
He was engaged in the Palms will case; the jury trial of Cofrode v. Brown which lasted nearly five months; the litigation between Detroit and the Street Railway Company in which was decided the question of the validity of the Railway Ordinance of 1879; all in the ten years after 1887.
In the latter half of his active practice he was engaged very largely as counsel with other lawyers; indeed, from the very first this was so to a considerable extent. In this capacity he excelled. His perception was so rapid, and his grasp of a problem so sure and strong, his fearlessness in pointing out his consultants' errors, made him perhaps the most useful office counsel of his Bar.
Mr. Justice BROWN has said that he never knew a man whose offhand opinion was more valuable than that of Mr. Pond. He had, however, many important clients himself, and until he began to act as General Counsel for the railroad companies, about 1882, had a large general practice. Between 1865 and 1868 he was a professor in the Law Department. His lectures were models of clearness and orderliness.
He gave up his chair from the increasing pressure of his ordinary professional work. In this chair he was succeeded by his lifelong friend, Charles A. Kent, now the only survivor of the professors who taught in the Law Department prior to I880. Mr. Pond never sought political or judicial position. He was a member of the Constitutional Commission of 1873, but is not known to have had any other public office. At one time he declined to run for Judge of the Superior Court of Detroit, though urged to accept the nomination by almost, if not quite, the entire Bar of the City.
Rare and fortunate are those men who take up the life work for which nature has intended them. Mr. Pond was one of those men. He was a born lawyer and of the highest type. For many years he was justly regarded as one of the ablest men at the Michigan Bar, if not its unquestioned leader in many respects. So long as he cared to be, he was retained in nearly every case of first importance in Detroit.
It is surprising to see in how many cases he appeared in our Supreme Court between 1865 and 1895. If counsel have any part in shaping the jurisprudence of a State, he did much in forming that of Michigan. He was successful by sheer force of intellect, not by grace of speech.
He was not a particularly effective speaker. When stirred in argument, his thoughts came faster than his tongue could express them. But his power of rapid analysis was great, his clearness of thought unusual, his knowledge of principles broad, his power of applying instantly the true principle to the facts extra- ordinary, and his reasoning marvelously quick and accurate.
His briefs were models of clear expression and compact argument. As a draftsman of complicated wills, or contracts, or trust mortgages, he was unexcelled. His power of comprehensive and orderly thought and of terse and clear expression made his papers models. His duties in his later years afforded full scope for his remarkable powers in this department of a lawyer's work.
But perhaps even more than to his industry and his unusual natural powers and his vast and accurate knowledge of the law, Mr. Pond's success was due to his honesty. Not only was he almost over-scrupulous in his pecuniary transactions and in his dealings with clients, but he was absolutely incapable of any intellectual dishonesty. He could not, and never did, deceive or try to mislead the court or any client. He would not pettifog or misstate evidence, or put any but the exact situation before his client.
If a client did not want an honest lawyer, and some clients do not, he could go to someone beside Mr. Pond. The courts knew him and trusted him and rightly leaned on him. There may have been men at the Bar with him who were as absolutely honest; there may have been those, though they were very few, who might compare with him in learning and reasoning power; but who can name one who combined, as he did, candor and power?
In spite of his great and well-deserved reputation, Mr. Pond was the most modest,and unassuming of men. He was shy and retiring by nature, and was not widely known outside the Bar. Devoted to his family, he avoided what is called society. The lawyers knew him best, and the lawyers who knew him most intimately, loved him most. In their society the reserve vanished and the humorous, kindly side of the man showed itself. No lawyer who wanted the help of his opinion was ever turned away unanswered, and more than one lawyer now in active practice owes his success to help given him, or business thrown in his way, by Mr. Pond.
A lawyer's fame is indeed short-lived, but surely such a life ought not to be soon forgot