A fond farewell.

To: Dwight D. Opperman
West Publishing Company
St. Paul

Dear Dad:

I am not ready to say goodbye. You’ve known me since I weighed six pounds, and for 40 of those years, we had the opportunity to work together. But I never said thank you, or at least I did not say thank you enough, and so now, at this funeral, I would like to take the time to thank you.

Thank you for my brother, Fane. You and Mom only had two kids, and I wish you had more because the two you had worked out pretty well. But you know, Dad, we’ve tried to make up for that by having nine grandchildren; Derek, Shana, Alisa, Cassandra, Chaney, Nathaniel, Vanessa, Hayley, and Grant. And of those grandchildren, four have produced 13 great-grandchildren, with more surely to come. And so, Dad, just like Abou Ben Adhem, your tribe increases.

And I want to thank you, I think, for taking me out on a golf course. In keeping with your well-known environmental concerns, no eagles were shot and very few birdies. You did teach me some alliterative English that I would not have heard any place else. And thank you for your love of our language, its composition, and grammar. You were renowned in your small-town high school, Perry Senior High School, for your love of English and its grammar. The high school English teacher who taught you those years during the Depression, Ms. Gladys Simpson, went on to get a PhD, and the two of you always stayed in touch. In fact, she would visit us during her summer vacations up through the 1960s.

And thank you for bringing me to the law. Thousands of hours during lunches and long Sunday-afternoon dinners (with Mom’s pot roast) were spent in debate and reasoned discussion on a wide range of topics. You taught me the importance of logical argument, the rule of law, and great respect for our judiciary. I am proud to be a lawyer, as you were. And that brings me to West Publishing Company.

West Publishing Company was already a hundred years old, and quite profitable, at a time when a decision had to be made about diverting considerable capital resources to exploring the possibility of providing legal research information in digital format over telephone lines. You were the one who ordered an experiment to be run to see if such an effort would be successful. One group of executives was opposed to continuing this development because it did not appear to be profitable and it ate up a lot of scarce capital. Their fear was that digital delivery of legal research information would cannibalize the very profitable book trade that West had built up during the previous 100 years. That decision came to you, as president and CEO.

You made the decision to go forward and develop what became known as Westlaw. It is certainly true, as you have always stated, that many people were responsible for the success of Westlaw and later, the other digital products that revolutionized the legal knowledge industry. But someone had to make the decision, and in this case, you made the right decision.

Thank you for being right about the digital revolution in knowledge products. There are thousands of people who would not have jobs, and there’s a great deal of the modern practice of law that would not take place, if you had decided differently. The original corporate motto for West Publishing Company applies most appropriately and specifically to you: Dwight D. Opperman, “forever associated with the practice of law.”

I am not ready to say goodbye, and I doubt that moment will ever come. Thank you, Dad.

Vance K. Opperman
Your loving son


Dwight D. Opperman, 1923–2013

Vance K. Opperman ( is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.

Related Stories