Sunday, June 16, 2019

New Biography on Ron McCallum

BornCongratulations to Ron McCallum (emeritus at Sydney) on the publication of his memoir Born at the Right Time : A Memoir (Allen & Unwin, 2019). Here's the publisher's description:

Ron McCallum has been blind from birth. When he was a child, many blind people spent their lives making baskets in sheltered workshops, but Ron's mother had other ideas for her son. She insisted on treating him as normally as possible.

In this endearing memoir, Ron recounts his social awkwardness and physical mishaps, and shares his early fears that he might never manage to have a proper career, find love or become a parent. He has achieved all this and more, becoming a professor of law at a prestigious university, and chairing a committee at the United Nations.

Ron's glass is always half full. He has taken advantage of every new assistive technology and is in awe of what is now available to allow him and other blind people to realise their potential. His is a life richly lived, by a man who remains open to all people from all walks of life.

And here's a brief description of Ron from his U. Sydney bio:

Ronald C McCallum AO was the foundation Blake Dawson Waldron Professor in Industrial Law in the University of Sydney Law School. He took up this position in January 1993 and retired from this position on 30 September 2007. This Blake Dawson Waldron professorship was the first full professorship in industrial law at any Australian university. Ron is the first totally blind person to have been appointed to a full professorship in any field at any university in Australia or New Zealand. Ron McCallum was employed on a fixed-term contract as a Professor of Labour Law in Sydney Law School from 1 February 2008 until 31 December 2010. In January 2011, he was appointed to an Emeritus Professorship in Sydney Law School.

Neither of these descriptions do Ron justice, even halfway. His faculty bio somehow omits the fact that he was a longstanding and very successful dean at Sydney, and I think it's fair to say that he was the first "modern" dean of the law school in the sense that he elevated the position from that of a mostly internal administrator to an external representative of the Law School to the external world at a global level. More than that, Ron was extremely generous with his time mentoring generations of young labor academics, and one of the nicest, down-to-earth academic leaders I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Apropos of this, here's a tribute from Paul Harpur (Queensland), one of Ron's biggest fans:

Ron has had a profound impact upon those he has touched. I lost my eyesight at the age of 14 in a train accident and  followed Ron’s career with interest. It was no surprise that I followed Ron into labor law. in 2003 Ron and I became friends and ever since then I have seen Ron as a hero. It is no surprise that Ron and I are both blind, both labor lawyers, both academics, and both with an interest in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Ron on formerly charring the CRPD Committee and Paul publishing on that same committee). Outside work Ron’s stories and generosity has influenced tens of thousands, and through his work on the UN CRPD Committee all persons with disabilities across the globe.

Thanks to Dennis Nolan (emeritus, South Carolina) for providing a heads-up on Ron's memoir.

UPDATE: Ron wrote to ask me to post the following:

Thank you for all of the very kind comments. I am truly humbled by your words. My life has been devoted to the teaching and practice of labour law to play my part in seeking to ensure fairness between workers and entrepreneurs. My book is titled “Born At The Right Time: A Memoir” and it comes out on 1 July in Australia and is published by Allen and Unwin. Overseas friends can purchase it through the book depository website.

Ron McCallum AO


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I've known a lot of impressive people in academia but none more so than Ron McCallum, Dean and Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney. Blind from birth, he became the dean of labour lawyers in Australia and trained many of the field's current leaders and scholars. Along the way, he met and worked with almost everyone in Australia, it seems, and in many other countries as well. His experiences would be enough to fill several books. His memoir promises to be a great read.

Posted by: Dennis Nolan | Jun 16, 2019 2:08:57 PM

Many years ago I was at a meeting of Australasian labour law teachers. One prominent professor introduced Ron as the lead speaker by noting that when he boarded his plane to the conference the pilot came on with the usual announcement and began by saying "This is your captain, Ron McCallum . . ." The professor said that he was initially taken aback but then thought "well, he's done everything else there is to do, so . . . "

Posted by: Dennis Nolan | Jun 16, 2019 2:23:42 PM

Ron has an inspiring and passionate commitment to the underdog, which is reflected in his scholarship and public statements. We are fortunate to have such a figure as one of the discipline's leaders, in this country and overseas.

Posted by: Sean Cooney | Jun 16, 2019 9:44:01 PM

I write to echo Dennis’ observations about what will undoubtedly be an intriguing look into the life of an extraordinary, delightful and brilliant labor law professor. Allow me to try to provide a sense of what is in store for the reader.
As noted, Ron has been blind since several hours or days after birth (I forget which) but has never let that hold him back and enjoys befuddling people who aren’t aware of his sightlessness. To illustrate, on one occasion he was spending a couple of days with us in Lexington, KY, after attending a conference in Virginia. Unfortunately I did not have a labor law class scheduled at the time of his visit but he was equally at home attending a class in Constitutional Law.
We went into the classroom ahead of the arrival of the students and I took Ron to what would be an unoccupied front row seat. I then walked him from there to the lectern, which was on a platform, and back to the seat. Students soon filled the room and I directed the class discussion to the day’s First Amendment case reports on religious separation. After about twenty minutes I told the class that Prof. McCallum from Australia would complete the class by comparing how the issues would be addressed under his nation’s law. Ron walked to the lectern, including stepping up to the platform unaccompanied and without his stick. He proceeded not only to talk about Australian law but also to quote at length pertinent language in the pre-Constitutional Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. I sat to the side facing the class and could see some students who, noting his body posture, debated in whispers whether he was blind. At the end of the class when I gave Ron my arm to guide him back to my office I noted the many astonished looks. Ron was delighted when I reported the reaction.
I had one disappointment with that particular visit. Ron wanted to “see” the famous Blue Grass horse farms. (He enjoys going to art museums.) We drove by a number of them, including a couple of stops, but I felt that my descriptive vocabulary did not measure up to the task.

Posted by: Alvin Goldman | Jun 17, 2019 9:33:52 AM

Alvin's comments about Ron's wanting to "see" the horse farms triggered a few more recollections. He stayed in our house twice, the second time years after the first. On his second visit he remembered exactly the path to the the guest room, how many paces to take before he turned left and then right. He used "see" and its variations as often as a sighted person would. One evening we had dinner with Ron and our daughter had to leave soon after. She called from the doorway that there was a beautiful harvest moon. We got up to look at it, and Ron insisted that he wanted to see it too. Like Alvin, I'm afraid my verbal descriptions were inadequate, but somehow he had developed the ability to perceive much of what sighted people saw using only words, sound, and touch. A truly amazing man.

Posted by: Dennis Nolan | Jun 17, 2019 11:15:04 AM

Ron has been a great friend and supporter to all of us active in Australian labour law scholarship. His leadership of the Australian Labour Law Association, and his support for other institutions such as the Australian Journal of Labour Law have been outstanding. Sorry that I will miss the launch, but pleased to have been associated with Ron and shared many of his values.

Posted by: Richard Mitchell | Jun 17, 2019 5:55:24 PM

I was a colleague of Ron for many years at Monash Law School and before that his student! His amazing professional achievements and distinguished career are outlined already so I'll share a couple of personal memories. Ron was popular amongst staff and students, always with thoughtful and insightful comments and a sense of humour that was endearing - and that made it fun, too, to work with him. The Monash Law School was his true home during that time - a student of his told me that it was three weeks before he realised Ron was blind, as Ron would skip down the Law School stairs to the lecture theatre, unaided. Ron read every case and article in his field thoroughly and was always on top of his game, even though then the state of technology was such that, in addition to Braille, readers had to read and record cases etc onto tapes for him - and the very fast, high pitched squeak of a tape recorder (very like a Donald Duck sound to the rest of us whose ears and brains were not attuned to the speed of listening and comprehension that Ron was) could be heard coming from his Law School office from very early in the morning. A visiting Professor once asked if Ron had a dog (meaning a guide dog) - a colleague replied "No, but he has a cat..."! A remarkable and inspiring friend indeed.

Posted by: Marilyn Pittard | Jun 22, 2019 4:48:48 PM

I’m honored to be able to share with Ron McCallum memories of Monash University, where I tought comparative labor law a long time ago. Among his other many attributes, Ron is a truly outstanding Monash alumnus who became an inspiring example of both courage and the highest level of labor law scholarship. I look forward to reading his memoir and now assure him that emeritus status is a wonderful time for continuing one’s chosen work. I appreciate his recent good word about my work on union members-only collective agreements, but remind him and others that such a stage in American law should be but the opening of the collective bargaining process, not its fulfillment. I have much to say about this in the new Bales-Garden Cambrdge collection and in my soon-to-appear new book, “How the Working Class can help the Middle Class: Reintroducing Non-Majority Collective Bargaining to the American Workplace.”

Posted by: Charles Morris | Jun 25, 2019 6:15:05 AM

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