Personal Lives

Law Student's Struggle to Cope with Personal Tragedy Inspires Others

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Frank Bingham
Courtesy Univ. of Denver.

Updated: Frank Bingham’s life took a significant new direction when he was 35, after his girlfriend, Rebecca Jean Dace, gave him an ultimatum: Get married or break up. He opted to break up, and she moved back home to Arkansas.

Three months later, still struggling a bit with the magnitude of the commitment, Bingham bought a ring, got in the car and called his pastor in the midst of a 15-hour, spur-of-the-moment drive to Little Rock and told him he was going to get married, recounts the Denver Post. The pastor was incredulous, pointing out that Dace, by this time, was no longer speaking to Bingham.

Bingham wasn’t even sure where Dace lived, but found her after getting a street name from a telephone operator, spotting her car and deducing from a doormat reflecting her taste which unit in a likely looking apartment building was hers. Knocking on her door, he learned not only that he had indeed found her home but that she had reconnected with a former boyfriend. Nonetheless he proposed and, after making him wait 24 hours, she accepted.

Six years later, Bingham was in his first semester at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law when another seismic shift took place in his life.

He, his wife and their two young children were struck by a drunken driver who ran a stop sign in his truck. The rest of his family died but Bingham survived the Nov. 10, 2006 accident with injuries to his right arm.

A year of intense mourning followed.

“Two out of every three days is … getting out of bed, I don’t want to exaggerate it,” he told the newspaper in 2007, pausing vacant-eyed in midsentence. “But it’s a mental struggle of, ‘OK, this is your life, and you’ve got another day of it to face. You’re going to drag yourself up out of bed and deal with whatever it brings.’ “

Friends and classmates in the law school’s evening program sent supportive notes and e-mails, made sure he had home-cooked meals and attended court hearings in the case against the drunken driver, who was eventually sentenced to a 48-year prison term after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.

Bingham took two months off after the accident, but made up the missed work over the holiday break and, as he puts it, “staggered back” to class in January, Law Week Colorado reports.

In addition to his studies, he focused on helping others, establishing a scholarship fund at the law school and a children’s book drive. He also made charitable gifts in his family’s memory, the Post reports.

Now, three-and-a-half years after the accident, the 44-year-old is not only about to graduate from law school but has been selected to be the student speaker at commencement.

In a statement he submitted, after being nominated by a classmate, about what he plans to say, “I said I’d like my story to inspire everyone to reflect on the interconnectedness of life and the vital importance of relationships with family, friends and community,” Bingham tells the legal publication.

“I hope it helps others to recognize the frailty of life, the uncertainty of tomorrow and the danger of misplaced priorities. But above all, I want to focus on the resilient nature of the human spirit and confirm the fact that hope and love can survive.”

For more of Bingham’s thoughts about how law graduates can best find fulfillment in their lives during trying times, read his commencement address, From Tears to Triumph.

Like many of his fellow law school graduates throughout the country, Bingham hasn’t yet lined up a job. But, in the latest example of benefiting from adversity in his own life, he took a vacation in Spain last summer when, despite having “as many interviews for summer associate positions as anybody ever had,” he wound up without a gig.

There he met the woman to whom he became engaged less than two months ago, he tells the ABA Journal. They plan to marry in December, after he takes the bar and they are well into the immigration process.

“And so, rather than start some new job in the midst of all that, I’ve just decided to wait until the beginning of 2011,” Bingham explains. A former school principal, he hopes to practice education law.

Additional coverage:

Denver Post: “Man who lost family to drunk driver builds on hope, love, forgiveness”

University of Denver: “DU law graduate to share words from the heart”

Updated on May 27 to include comments from Bingham and link to commencement address and subsequent Denver Post article.

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