At age 7, when most boys dream of becoming a football hero or astronaut, Scott Milne Matheson's unwavering career goal was a bit less glamorous.
The determined youngster wrote his ambition on a piece of paper placed in a time capsule: "To be a lawyer.""A lawyer???" his classmates must have puzzled. That sounded as thrilling as selling insurance. In 1936, remember, television and "Perry Mason" were still decades away from the Matheson living room. And the intriguing court scenes of "L.A. Law" had not yet been imagined.
Two years later, at age 9, Scott celebrated his birthday in an unusual way. He and his father, who was an attorney, spent the afternoon in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Tillman D. Johnson - who shared Scott's same birth date. This birthday tradition began Matheson's lifetime admiration for judges.
While most Utahns mourn the loss of a great governor, Utah judges and attorneys who knew Matheson intimately mourn the death of a gentleman lawyer who became a governor - a man who changed the course of our state's courts.
To them, Matheson represented the finest of their profession.
The extraordinary legal legacy Matheson has left is not as visible as the cowboy gov who led a fight for victims of nuclear tests, but it is as profound.
In May, Matheson told members of the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century, "Governors come and go, but judges stick on. The long-term impact of judges on personal lives exceeds the impact of any governor," he said.
During his two terms as governor, Matheson appointed 50 judges - including all five members of the Utah Supreme Court.
"In 1976, when Dad decided to run for governor, he frequently talked about how important the responsibility of the governor was in appointing judges. Appointing qualified men and women to the bench was a primary reason for him to run," said Scott Matheson Jr."He recognized the judiciary as a branch of state government that needed his attention and effort."
Strong judges. Dramatic reform. Speedier justice. Law education for youngsters. Pride in the courts and law. This is the legacy passed on to Utahns by their lawyer-governor.
Serving as governor was only eight years of Matheson's diverse career. After graduating from Stanford University, Matheson set up practice in Parowan, serving as the city attorney and as Iron County deputy attorney. He later moved to Salt Lake City to a one-room law firm while at the same time serving as a part-time deputy Salt Lake County attorney.
From 1958 until he was elected governor, Matheson worked as an attorney with the powerful Union Pacific Railroad and Anaconda companies.
In 1968, Matheson was elected the youngest president of the Utah State Bar.
Matheson Jr., a law professor at the University of Utah College of Law, recalls his father's love of his profession. When asked during a 1976 interview what he valued most in life, Matheson Sr. replied, "First my family. Second, practicing law."
The current trend of attorneys toward a "more negative, overly aggressive" style of practice disturbed the former governor. "He tried to work with young attorneys to reverse the trend," his son said.
Those who knew Matheson love to talk about a friend who elevated the respectability of the judiciary through his reputation and dedication. They feel his loss greatly.
James B. Lee, Matheson's law partner following the governorship, remembers sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom from Matheson in their early careers.
"Scott was good to negotiate with because he was fair. He was a formidable opponent because he knew the law and was always prepared. But you came away from court liking him because he was courteous and had good judgment."
Matheson believed the judiciary could only be as strong as its judges. He took pride in actively recruiting "the best legal minds" to the bench. He boasted to the justice commission in May that he considered Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham one of his finest appointments.
A highlight of Durham's life is the phone call she received from Matheson in 1978. "Well, would you like to make some history together?" the governor asked. Durham was the first women appointed to the district bench in Utah and later to the Supreme Court.
"Scott Matheson was the kind of lawyer and governor that made me proud to be a lawyer from Utah," she says. "He had a vision that is unusual in politics. The credibility he gained for the legal profession is of incalculable value."
Before Matheson took office, the judiciary was "fragmented, disorganized and suffered from low morale," Durham said.
"Scott's commitment to the judiciary provided the impetus for needed reform. Remarkable changes have occurred since 1978, and Scott provided the foundation for new goals and reorganization."
Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Zimmerman credits the former governor with the increased efficiency of the courts. In 1977, when the budget for the Supreme Court was sent to him for approval, he sent it back, arguing tenaciously for a fairer budget to support hiring more law clerks and staff.
Realizing the burgeoning caseload of the Supreme Court was creating an unbearable backlog of cases, causing some litigants to wait years for resolution of cases, Matheson supported the 1984 Judicial Article. This legislation established an intermediate appellate court - the Utah Court of Appeals - and modernized the court system, said Zimmerman.
He also promoted individual calendaring by district judges, giving them power to manage their own case-loads, eliminating unnecessary delay.
"We're now a much more unified and autonomous branch of government."
Matheson's appointments to the bench were nearly 50 percent Democrat and 50 percent Republican, said Zimmerman. "Sometimes he was criticized for actively recruiting people to apply for the bench, but he didn't much care about the criticism. He was quite aggressive in twisting arms.
"I was encouraged by third parties who had talked to the governor to apply. It was not something I had anticipated doing in my career."
In schools throughout Utah, Matheson's legacy in the field of legal education continues. Students learn to understand the law and turn to it - instead of violence and crime - for resolution of problems, said U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas Greene.
Deeply committed to educating young people about using the legal system to accomplish change, Matheson and Greene initiated one of the first law-related courses in the nation.
The two men were "fired up" about the program before Matheson was governor, "but after Scott was elected, people really started to listen. The law education program was mandatory in K-12 in all Utah schools. Utah became the state everyone else would point to as a example as a successful program.
"If youngsters understand why we have laws, they will more likely obey." A close friend of Matheson, Greene said the governor's main motivation in becoming involved in government was to improve the courts, to "do away with delay, high cost and seeming injustice - and he did just that. His legacy to Utah's courts does and will go on," the judge said.
Zimmerman summarizes Matheson's enduring contribution: "Scott was an inspirational leader to the end. Those of us who visited him in the hospital had no sense of a man about to die, but of a man who was thinking about the future, about our responsibility to make a further contribution to our state and our community."