The Catholic University of America

 

 

A Life in Law, A Life of Service

 
There was never a golf course somewhere with Martin J. Dockery’s name on it. When he retired from a long and lucrative legal career in 2001, he knew that the next phase of his life would not involve leisurely strolls on the back nine or fly-fishing in Wyoming; it would involve giving back to a land that he first got to know with a rifle in his hands: Vietnam. 

Dockery—a soldier, lawyer, published author and public schoolteacher—moved to Saigon in 2001, only months after stepping down from his law practice.
 
“My year as a soldier in Vietnam never troubled me. I was never visited by ghosts. Nevertheless, I felt a personal need to return and do something for the Vietnamese people. Retirement from the law gave me the opportunity to do so,” says Dockery, a 1967 graduate of the Columbus School of Law.
 
Dockery spent the first year of his second tour (2002-2011 and beyond) in Vietnam teaching English at an orphanage for blind children. Thereafter, he taught English in the public schools, as well as American and British history in a government-owned university. He has since retired again and now lives in Saigon full time.  
 
“Teaching in Vietnam has been personally rewarding and great fun. These past ten years have been the happiest years of my life,” he says.
 
Born in Brooklyn in 1938 to Irish immigrant parents, Dockery graduated in 1960 from Boston College with a BA in economics. He served in the U.S. Army as an infantry lieutenant 1960 to 1964 and was among the first American soldiers deployed to a distant Asian country that most Americans knew little about.  As a combat advisor for a year to a Vietnamese Infantry Battalion, he was often the only American with 500 Vietnamese soldiers.
 
His final assignment in the army was spent with the Third Infantry (The Old Guard) stationed at Ft. Meyer, Va. The posting allowed Dockery to participate in the 1963 funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
                
After graduation from Catholic University law school in 1967, he began his practice with the
New York City law firm of Nixon Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander and Mitchell, where his immediate boss was John Mitchell, the future U.S. Attorney General under President Nixon
 
Dockery was a partner there from 1974 to 1995, when the firm disbanded. He worked at two other law firms until 2001.
 
While teaching in Vietnam, he found time to write a memoir of his earlier incarnation there as a soldier. His 2003 book, "Lost in Translation" was published by Random House. Dockery’s second book, about Vietnam as it is today, is nearing completion.
                
“I tell the retired and those about to retire to do something. Help people if you can. I say, keep busy, take on responsibility, get involved and work the brain,” says Dockery. “It need not be new or different. Giving money to good causes does not provide the same satisfaction as personally helping others.”
 
Looking back, Dockery concedes that his 19 years of Catholic schooling may have had something to do with his desire to help others. But the reality is even giving back can require resources.
 
“If I were starting all over as a young man, I would choose the law again. The financial rewards are too great to ignore. I would not have been able to teach in Vietnam these last ten years, if I were not financially secure,” he reflects.
 
At age 73, does life finally promise long days of rest and repose? Not exactly. The father of two grown sons from an earlier marriage, Dockery and his wife, Thao, decided to have two of their own and today are the proud parents of six-year old twins, John Phuc and Eileen Thao My.