As frigid temperatures sweep the midwest this week I am reminded of a South Bend Tribune article from long ago reporting that the mayor “froze his face … while coming from Notre Dame.” The mayor was a lawyer and the Tribune took his condition to be evidence that he possessed a “tenderer cheek” than others in the profession. The article got me wondering:
1 – What is a “frozen face?” (The Tribune never reported that he had a “thawed face”)
2 – Did the frozen-faced lawyer inspire the character of Keyrock, the unfrozen caveman lawyer on Saturday Night Live? Read on.
3 – Who was this frozen-yet-tender man and why was he coming to South Bend all the way from Notre Dame?
His name was Lucius G. Tong. He served as Mayor of South Bend from 1878-80, was a leading member of the University’s faculty for two decades, and served as an influential banking executive for years following his academic career. Through all of this he was public-spirited, honest and a genuinely good man. As such, his story does not provide us with any great quests, surprise twists or gotcha moments. It provides something more valuable: an outstanding example of what it has always meant to be a Notre Dame Lawyer.
Lucius Gillespie Tong was born in Ohio in 1842, the oldest of six children. At the age of 16 he began studies at Kenyon College; one year later he transferred to Notre Dame. He was an excellent student. Tong received a “Master of Accounts” certificate from Notre Dame in 1861, spent a year in business in Ohio, and returned to Notre Dame in 1863 as Professor of Bookkeeping. He remained on the faculty for more than two decades.
And he continued to study. In 1871, when the university awarded law degrees for the first time, Lucius Tong graduated in the “top three” of the class. (The class had only three members – but still.) He joined the law faculty immediately and by 1877 he was appointed its “director.” The number of law graduates in the 1870s was small, and without Lucius Tong’s guidance, the department may very well have discontinued.
His personal life flourished as well. In 1873 Tong married Bridget Cecelia Ball, an Irish immigrant and the sister of several Notre Dame students. Her father was a prosperous grocer in Lafayette and the ceremony was described as the most brilliant the city had ever witnessed.. The couple set up house at 207 S. Scott Street in South Bend, a modest home where they lived their entire married lives. The structure no longer exists, but it was about two blocks west of the current St. Patrick’s Church and a few blocks south of the Studebaker family residences.
Around the same time, Prof. Tong’s mother and five siblings moved from Ohio to join him in South Bend. The family had an interesting religious background; Lucius was raised in a very strict Lutheran household but he converted to Catholicism after attending Notre Dame. His father converted on his deathbed and the rest of the family followed suit, with three of his four sisters becoming nuns (sisters Ellen, Lizzie, and Laura became Sisters Florentine, Purificazione, and Presentazione).
While he continued to teach, Prof. Tong established a law practice and real estate agency, through which he became well known to the leaders in South Bend political circles. In 1878 he was elected Mayor of South Bend, only the fifth person to hold the job. He had a no-nonsense reputation, was fond of discipline and routine, and marched through the agenda for each meeting ensuring that expenses did not exceed the City’s ability to pay. The South Bend Tribune noted that Tong’s “administration was noted for the great amount of routine business disposed of in a given time,” and that Tong “wasted no time with talk that was not directly to the point … being of methodical habits he wanted to see the budget cleaned up at each session.” Newspaper reports noted that his office was well organized. Do you want to hang out with this guy at a party? Probably not. But he got things done.
The items which made news during his administration reflect the very different world in which he lived:
- Whether to pave city streets with cedar blocks or clay bricks (cedar was selected – bad choice)
- Whether to acquire land for the purpose of a city park (a former dump is now Howard Park – good choice)
- How to handle anti-immigrant feelings affecting Chinese citizens of South Bend (vigorous protection of their property and rights – good choice)
- How best to celebrate Independence Day (Tong issued a proclamation allowing citizens to fire guns in the city, but not to kill animals “or birds” (??) – strange choice)
In 1880 Tong ran for re-election but lost to the Democractic Party challenger, Levi J. Ham. He never again sought political office, turning instead to other forms of public service that suited his personality. He was already a trustee of the St. Joseph County Savings Bank; in 1880 he was appointed vice president. In 1882, when the bank’s secretary (known as the “cashier”) died, Tong was elected to that position. As a result of his expanding duties at the bank, in June 1882 Tong left the full-time faculty of the university. [Side note: Tong’s departure paved the way for a new professor of law to join the faculty; William Hoynes was selected a few months later, becoming the first “dean” and transforming legal education at Notre Dame.]
Lucius Tong viewed his role in banking as public service. He did not become wealthy or exploit others to benefit himself, but used his position to expand the economic opportunities available to others within the community. When the St. Joseph Loan and Trust Co. was formed in 1900 its directors asked Tong to serve as secretary-treasurer. In 1904 he saw a need for local financial institutions to more easily work with one another; several banks formed the South Bend Clearing House Association and asked Tong to serve as its president.
Life wasn’t all work and no play for Lucius Tong, of course. For entertainment he had … the Temperance Society. He remained active in the anti-drinking group throughout his life. He was also very active in the Land League, supporting the “suffering Irish,” and in efforts to improve local government. Best of all, Lucius Tong was a “man of the wheel,” the term for cycling enthusiasts in the late 19th century. Tong was a founding member of the South Bend chapter of the League of American Wheelmen. He was involved in several accidents, one of which left him unconscious for over two hours. He later became an advocate for newfangled bicycle lanterns (and nowadays aren’t we all?)
At heart, however, Lucius Tong was a devoted family man – he and Cecelia had eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood – a responsible member of the South Bend community, and passionate about bookkeeping. He had written a textbook on the subject and loved to have everything in its place. And he took things to heart; that was his undoing. When the entire country endured a financial crisis in 1907, Lucius Tong felt some (unfounded) responsibility for it. He suffered a nervous breakdown – reported in excruciating detail in the Tribune – and died on April 12, 1908 in South Bend.
Let’s return to our starting point: the mayor with the frozen face. He was actively engaged with his community throughout his life, finding ways to be of service rather than to promote his own self-interest. A member of Notre Dame’s first class law graduates, Lucius Tong set an excellent example of what “Notre Dame Lawyer” would mean for generations to come.
And now that you know a bit more about him, you can safely rule out Lucius Tong as the inspiration for Keyrock, the selfish and sarcastic unfrozen caveman lawyer. But if you followed the link to the video clip you’re going to have a hard time getting the theme song out of your mind (“He used to be a caveman, but now he’s a lawyer … unfrozen caveman lawyer!”)
For sources and additional reading see p. 2