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Standing up to the Prince: Looking back at King Charles III's 1977 visit to Cleveland State University

As the prince took the podium to speak at Cleveland State in 1977, a CSU law student spoke out with a concern.

CLEVELAND — In October of 1977, then-Prince Charles visited Cleveland, stopping at the Cleveland Clinic, Public Square, a steel mill, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Cleveland State University, where a new law building was being opened and dedicated.

RELATED: 'Royalty within touching distance': Remembering the day the new King Charles III visited Cleveland 45 years ago

A new law professor at the time, David Forte, now professor emeritus at Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, recalled the excitement surrounding the prince’s arrival.

“Cleveland went agog over his arrival, and we were very excited here to have him here,” Forte said. “Some of the students dressed as well as they could in case they were able to shake his hands. One of my students actually brought gloves, but she didn’t get to shake his hands.”

Credit: Janet Macoska

Forte described the visit as “thrilling” for the law school, where he described some students as “awe-struck.”

“How one could capture an audience was the thing that I took away,” Forte said. “How one could develop a sense of presence where no matter what one said, people would listen. And I found that quite an extraordinary thing to observe.”

Steven R. Lazarus, emeritus associate professor of law, was also present during King Charles III's 1977 visit.

“People were very impressed with the prince, he was a very impressive person, he was very polite,” Lazarus said. “He asked a lot of questions, and listened to the people who were answering.”

Lazarus remembered the prince greeting people, then having lunch and delivering a speech.

“I got to say, and can still say today I guess, since they served lunch before the speech, that we had lunch with the Prince of Wales,” Lazarus recalled, laughing. 

After lunch, faculty, staff, and community members filed into the space where the prince would speak, greeting him with a round of applause. However, as everyone took their seats in anticipation of the prince beginning his address, one student remained standing.

“He stood up and he said, ‘when are you going to stop torturing political prisoners in Northern Ireland?’” Lazarus said. “There was a gasp, because it was so unlike the general atmosphere, everybody was just so happy and everybody was so friendly.”

“Two rather hefty plainclothesmen escorted the gentleman out of the room as soon as possible,” said Forte.

That student was Jack Kilroy, at the time, a third year law student, and editor-in-chief for student publication The Gavel. That very newspaper would publish an article that read ‘Kilroy removed from dedication.’

“Frightening and exhilarating,” Kilroy said of the moment he stood up and spoke out. “I really had to summon all my nerve to do that.”

Kilroy said he didn’t tell anyone he was planning on saying anything, as he feared his credentials for the event would be revoked. Despite getting hauled out, he doesn’t regret what he did. Like the protestors outside, he too was troubled by the treatment of political prisoners in Ireland and the ongoing turmoil in the region.

Credit: Janet Macoska

“The only thing that evil needs to continue is for good people to remain silent,” he told 3News in his home in Avon Lake, 45 years after the event.

Kilroy did not stay silent. In fact, he brought forth lawsuits, including against the prince himself, after he was removed from the speech and held in a room elsewhere in the building.

He went on to become an attorney and battle throat cancer twice. Still, he understands the importance of standing up for what you believe is right.

“I’d remind my younger self that nobody remembers things you don’t do,” he said. “It’s a chance to make an impact in a positive way, even if there’s a personal cost, go for it.”

Back at the podium, Professors Lazarus and Forte recall the prince conducted himself with calm and composure, asking the room, “any more Irish here?” before carrying on with his speech.

Despite the interruption, both men remember the day fondly.

“I cannot think of any other person besides the pope who doesn’t hold power, outside of movie fame or political fame, who just gathers this kind of fascination,” said Forte. “So I’ve reflected on that, and I thought it was a lot of fun.”

In the aftermath of the outburst, Forte said his students were more concerned about the legalities and lawsuits raised, than the pomp and circumstance of the event. Eventually, Forte and Lazarus said the lawsuit against the prince was dismissed.

“Their big issue was what was going to happen to the person who was ejected?” Forte laughed. “They wanted to know what part of law they should learn to understand this example. So that’s what they mostly talked about, which was great for us, because it was a learning experience.”

“What he was doing was standing up for what he believed, which is one of the things we admire about our profession and hope that our students will do,” said Lazarus. “So it was a nice day at the time, and even looking back at it, maybe in large part because of Jack Kilroy, it's a nice memory to have.”

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