A Brief Biography of Joe McCrayJoe McCray 2011

At this writing, I’m seventy years old. Some might think this is an age where one really shouldn’t be launching a writing career. But maybe it’s a better time. It has been a long life – a long, eventful and revealing life. Maybe others could have come across what I did without living it, but, even if that is so, there still seems to be a value in actually doing it.

Early Years

Joe McCray and Harry Bridges, ILWU

Harry Bridges, President International Longshore and Warehouse Union, 1968-1970 and Joe McCray, Assistant

My most important years were spent in San Francisco – 40 of them. Those included attending law school at the University of San Francisco, time as a longshoreman and, at the pinnacle of my ambition then, as the Administrative Assistant to Harry Bridges, President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Hounded by the United States for over 20 years because of the effectiveness of his leadership of the West Coast longshoremen, Bridges was widely seen as the conscious of the American labor movement and inspiration for working class solidarity around the world. I worked at Bridges specific direction with missions on both coasts.

Practicing Law

Pierce Co Liable news articleAnderson and Journey v Janovich, Carbone and others was tried over four months in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in the summer and fall of 1983. I represented the plaintiffs – Anderson, whose successful tavern had been fired bombed and harassed with the complicity of the Pierce County Sheriff and other County officers, and Journey, a law enforcer for the Washington State liquor board, who was shot when he refused to take a bribe from a crime family that was supported and protected by Pierce County authorities. At the end of a brutally contested trial, the Court held the County liable to the plaintiffs, along with the crime family.

General Motors’ pickup cases. Beginning with model year 1973 and continuing through model year 1987, General Motors designed, manufactured and sold pickup trucks with fuel tanks placed outside the vehicle frame rails, just inside the sheet metal skin. Notwithstanding that in the first year of sales there were accidents in which fuel tanks were breached and injury-producing fire resulted, GM continued to make and sell trucks with this design.

Catastrophic injuries were reported around the country when fire erupted in ordinary collisions when these trucks were involved. I undertook a case against GM in the late seventies and tried it to verdict in 1983. At the time it was only the second case in the country that had been tried. The resulting plaintiff verdict awarding more that four million dollars lead to more cases referred to me and, ultimately, I handled more such cases than any single lawyer in the country. I tried to verdict another case in Yolo County, California (northeast of San Francisco) in 1990 and again won a substantial verdict. I became the only lawyer in the nation to try two of these cases. All of the other 34 cases were settled out of court.

My 32 years as a practicing trial lawyer, began April fool’s Day, 1971 and ended in January of 2005. It was on this latter date that the California State Bar placed me on “inactive” status.

Joe McCray and LabNow

I am breathless walking from one fence line to the other on this little plot of earth, but also when I realize that in those thirty two years I appeared and handled cases in jurisdictions all around the country and outside California, from Rhode Island and New York to Montana and Arizona.

When I finally threw in the towel, my wife and I returned to the Portland area, where we had attended high school. There, we settled into a failing little farm and took to raising two Labrador pups. Finding farming very hard and hunting season short, I spent some time mulling over and writing about my practice as fiction. After all, being in San Francisco from 1965 until 2005 was like trying to enjoy a good bottle of wine and some pasta in the middle of a battle field.

The basics:


  • 1941 in Denver, Colorado


  • Franklin High School, Portland, Oregon, graduating 1959
  • Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington, graduating 1964
  • University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco, graduating 1969


  • Delores Ray, 1960, Portland, Oregon


  • Daughter, Kelly, granddaughter Kathryn and great granddaughter Vivian and grandson Joe
  • Son, Tom and his wife, Robin, grandsons Ryan and Sean.


  1. Stephen
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    congratulations, Joe, you have reached a milestone. One can now get to this blog by Googling your name!

  2. Kathy Davis Clarke
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Just finished Elusive Wisdom on my Kindle. Loved all the details of finagling the law. Good read.

  3. Marcia Betts
    Posted May 18, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Interesting bio Joe. Sorry to hear about your dog. My grandfather was a longshoreman in Portland. He suffered a serious injury on the job, was disabled and became an alcoholic. It was always known to be a hard and dangerous job in my home.
    I was too young at the time to have known the details. I only knew he picked blackberries and flowers, drank up his pension on “skid row” and had to stay with us until his next check. At that time, the cycle would start again.
    Thanks for helping them.
    Regards, MRB

    • JMcCray
      Posted June 13, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Marcia: Nice to hear from you, even with this sad story. The ILWU substance abuse program got started in earnest after I started my law practice. A couple friends of mine ran it for years and I know a lot of guys that went through it to a more successful life. Others, of course, slipped through the cracks – like your grandfather. The important thing is that the union made it possible to get sober.

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