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March 20, 1998

The Friendship between Dr. Dean McHenry and Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren

It is fitting that the obituary of Dean E. McHenry, first UC Santa Cruz chancellor, appeared in many California newspapers on March 19, the 107th anniversary of the late Chief Justice Earl Warren's birth. Warren, who served as governor of California for a record ten years until his 1953 appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, enjoyed a long friendship with Dr. McHenry.

Warren was scheduled to speak at UCSC in June 1974 in honor of Dr. McHenry's retirement. Unfortunately, a heart problem confined him to a Washington, D.C., hospital bed, forcing him to abort the trip.

In a letter written a few weeks before his July 1974 death, Warren apologized to McHenry for cancelling the speech and reminisced on their long association. "I did want to say to the people of Santa Cruz, whom I knew very well in my political years in California, that I appreciate, as I am sure they do, the tremendous job you have done at the Santa Cruz Campus, the renowed jurist penned on May 30, 1974.

He recalled visiting McHenry years earlier at the campus site, "I remember when I first dropped off to see you . . . your office, as I recall it, was in one of the temporary buildings of the contractor. At that time, very little had been done toward actual construction, but I was thrilled in trying to envision what would develop there on that beautiful plateau from which one could survey the Pacific Ocean and conjure what it would mean to our Nation in the years to come."

Warren reflected on McHenry's unsuccessful 1952 campaign for a congressional seat in the San Fernando Valley. McHenry, then a UCLA political science professor, was teaching one of Warren's daughters. "She related to me what was transpiring at the time you ran for Congress, and how you were being abused by your opponent [Nixon crony Joseph Holt III] because you did not conform to the Joe McCarthy principles of government. I sympathized with you at that time because I knew your opponent. He had been building fires under me for several years while I was in Sacramento."

However, Warren believed that McHenry's failure to enter the political arena was for the best. "As I look back on it now, I am pleased that you did not win that election, because had you done so I am sure that the people would have soon recognized your worth, and would have retained you to the loss of the University of California which I believe has done more good for our State than any other organization in its history."

Warren's letter, now preserved by the Library of Congress, is also significant as one of the preeminent Chief Justice's final writings. The country was then consumed by the Watergate scandal, which would lead to President Richard Nixon's resignation ten weeks later. Warren wrote, "I also wanted to talk to your students, as we had agreed upon, because I would like to plead with them not to become involved in the current cynicism resulting from the Watergate scandals . . . I wanted to impress upon them that they not only should but could be an important factor in solving many of the problems of our day . . . Our country will survive this tragedy and will do so if an enlightened citizenry will give its attention to the affairs of government on all its levels."


Jason A. Bezis

Jason A. Bezis is a native of Livermore, who is researching the life of the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, a friend of the late UCSC Chancellor Dean E. McHenry. He can be reached at 1969 South Livermore Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550-9003.

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