EDITED BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
Val Nolan Jr. was known to the Bloomington community as an exceptional scholar of uncommon breadth. While serving as a professor in Indiana University’s law school and twice as its acting dean, he also joined the Department of Biology, where he made substantial contributions to the field of ornithology.
Nolan was so beloved a teacher that his former student Michael “Mickey” Maurer, the attorney and entrepreneur after whom the law school is now named, endowed the Val Nolan Chair in Law now held by IU Bloomington’s provost, Lauren Robel. Describing Nolan as one of her own mentors, Robel said after his death in 2008, “He was a giant, but a gentle one. His integrity and intellectuality set the standard for many of us at the school.”
Those who knew this gentle man may be surprised to learn that the legal scholar and ornithologist began his professional life with top-secret security clearance, access to the president of the United States, and a cache of firearms including a .38-pistol and a submachine gun. At just 21 years of age, Nolan was the youngest Secret Service agent in the White House, assigned to protect Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Here, we tell the story of Nolan’s Secret Service detail in his own words, drawn from two oral histories and found in letters (in italics) to his mother, Jeannette, written in 1942. The bulk of his recollections are transcribed from videos his niece Elizabeth Nolan recorded in 2005, with some additional details provided by a 2006 interview with IU Culbertson Chair Emeritus of English Donald J. Gray.
The story begins in December 1941. Nolan, a native of Evansville, Indiana, and a ’41 IU grad, was working as a deputy U.S. marshal serving subpoenas and making federal arrests. After his father’s sudden passing the previous year, Nolan was helping to support his mother and two younger siblings, who were living in Bloomington while he rented a room in Indianapolis.