Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Celebration of Life Remarks from Judge William Pate

Peter Emmons Riddle, as you know, was a high achiever, a man of many accomplishments, a wearer of many hats.  Depending on the setting, he was regularly called Captain Riddle, or Judge Riddle, or your Honor, or Dad or Granddad.

I was and am very proud to have called him “my friend.”  In fact, Pete was more than a friend; in many ways he was family.  In our family, Pete was called IGOR, a title of which he was very proud.  He was our friend for over 40 years and part of the Pate Family for almost that long.  Pete and his two amazing daughters Katherine and Susan were always welcome in our home. 

There are many yardsticks by which Pete could be measured.  Such as a military officer and combat veteran, an athlete, a lawyer and a judge.  I choose to measure Pete as a devoted father and family man.  I do not think one could have been a more conscientious and devoted father than Pete was to his two daughters and later on to his grandchildren. 

Whenever we were together the first topic of conversation was a “sitrep” on his children and grandchildren and my sons and grandchildren.  I think this spoke volumes about his priorities.  Only after we were both caught up on this important information did we delve into other topics of interest.

Our lives were interwoven from the early 1970’s to the present.  We had much in common, both veterans of the Vietnam War, Pete as a Seal and I as a Marine.  We were recent law school graduates, and busy raising a family in Coronado, with a strong interest in community.  Pete twice served on the Coronado City Council.

For a while, we were both coaching one of our children’s soccer teams.  We practiced on the same field and at the end of the last practice of the week we would hold a scrimmage between Pete’s girls team and our team.  As coaches we had a side wager that the coach of the losing team would have to do pushups.  Thankfully, Pete usually had to do the pushups.  He would hit the ground and to the amazement of the players and other coaches pop off about 70 pushups without stopping. 

For many years we ran together almost every morning.  We would check in with each other in the evening and Pete would announce he would be “standing tall” in front of my house at 0500.  I would always respond, “How else could you be standing?”  Pete would then let out with his famous belly laugh.

You can learn a lot about a person when running for miles early in the morning.  We talked most of the way.  Sometimes one of us would complain and threaten to “take off our pack” as our way of being funny.  Pete would tell stories from his days playing high school baseball as a catcher in Chicago, or about the time he broke Rev. Jesse Jackson’s nose playing intramural football while both of them were at the University of Chicago.

One particular story was touching.  In 1968, after law school, Pete was a member of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign staff.  On that terrible day when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, Gov. Rockefeller sent Pete to the Kennedy family where he teamed up with L.A. Rams’ star Roosevelt Grier to assist and help protect the Kennedy children during this very traumatic time in their lives.

Interestingly, we spoke very little about our respective times in Vietnam.  When Pete mentioned it, it was usually to point out that when they wanted to know how deep a river or stream was, they would send Pete out to act as a human depth gauge because he was always the tallest. 

However, he did speak often and fondly of his SEAL training which you have heard about from his teammate Admiral Irish Flynn.

During our friendship Pete was a bachelor for a number of years.  We had many talks during that difficult time in his life, but there was always one constant, he always kept his focus on Katherine and Susan and being the best father possible.

It was during these many years of being a single parent that Igor really became a part of our family.  I think my wife Chris and our four sons were more responsible for that than I.  Pete enjoyed being around four rambunctious boys.  He frequently commented that we lived on the edge of chaos, but he loved it.  And to top it off, Chris is an amazing cook and Pete can put away the food, what a combination.

Pete always had impeccable timing.  Just by happenstance Pete would drop by to visit just as Chris was cooking up a mound of blueberry or banana pancakes for breakfast.  Her eyes would light up as Pete came walking into the kitchen, because even though she was cooking for four boys, a husband and usually a foreign exchange student, with Igor there she would get to make at least two more batches of pancakes.

During this time, with our four sons we had multiple sporting events every Saturday.  It was our goal to make sure we attended all of the boys’ games.  Pete would frequently jump in and volunteer to cover one or more games. 

On one occasion our oldest son Bill was playing in a JV football game and Pete was there with our son Bryan because Chris and I were traveling to Monterey.  During the game Bill suffered a severe fracture to his upper arm at the shoulder.  In typical fashion, Pete immediately took charge, putting Bill and Bryan in his car and driving to the ER.  He then got ahold of Chris’ brother, an orthopedic surgeon, who operated on Bill that evening.  In the meantime, Pete contacted us upon our arrival in Monterey and stayed with Bill until we got back around 1am the next morning.  He was our Igor.

However, on occasion Igor’s help was not always fully appreciated.  For years, Pete’s daughters would babysit our boys when we went to Sunday afternoon Charger games.  Pete inevitably came along to help.  One afternoon we got back home and everything looked fine in the house until we walked into the kitchen.  One of us looked up and going across the kitchen ceiling were these black marks.  When we asked the boys what caused this, they told us that Igor had held our youngest son, Doug, upside down so he could walk on the ceiling.  

Pete used to participate in a triathlon called the “Super Frog” which was primarily for active and former SEALS.   On our Monday morning run after a Super Frog, I asked Pete how he had done.  He was crestfallen.  By the time he had finished the swim portion just about everyone was long out of the water and on their bikes.  Pete took off down the Strand on his bike and got a flat tire that apparently took forever to repair. Then on to the run.  He said that by the time he finished the run they were taking down the finish line banner, most contestants had gone home and they were sweeping up the empty beer cans. 

Although he didn’t say so, I knew he would take steps to make himself more competitive.  A few weeks later on a run he tells me he had a very embarrassing incident happen to him the day before.  In order to improve his swimming he had decided to swim from North Island to the Amphibious Base, swimming parallel to the beach.  Well as he drew abreast of the Central Beach lifeguard tower, a life guard comes out and asks him if he was alright.  Apparently while watching Pete swim, the lifeguard grew concerned he might be drowning. I think it was that incident that caused Pete to join the Masters Swimming program at UCSD under the tutelage of Sickie, whom you will hear from later. 

For me personally it was a loss because swim practice was in the morning and I lost my running partner, but not my friend.  For Pete, it was great. He became an accomplished competitive swimmer and met Betsy, his wife.

In the 1980’s, with the election of George Deukmejian as Governor, Pete was one of a handful of people the Governor relied upon to make recommendations for judicial appointments to the state courts for San Diego County.  For at least a couple of years Pete would urge Chris and me to apply for appointment to the Superior Court.  We consistently told him thanks but no thanks.  Pete persisted and I finally had a change of heart and with the help of Pete was appointed to our local Superior Court.  Chris resisted for another year and a half before being appointed.

About a year after I was appointed Pete came to me for a career counseling session.  Pete had a cadre of 3 or 4 people that he would seek advice from about life or career decisions.  You see, Pete had this philosophy that one needed to be re-potted every so often.  So about once a decade Pete would seek my advice.  Since he wanted to be re-potted, I considered myself more of an advisory horticulturalist than a career counsellor.  

In 1987, Pete sought my advice on seeking a judicial appointment himself. He was not a trial attorney, having specialized in probate and estate planning. Since I had thoroughly enjoyed my first few months on the bench, I advised Pete to go for it, but cautioned that because he was not a career trial attorney, there would be a steep learning curve.  To rectify this, he decided to seek appointment to the Municipal Court and if that went well then apply for elevation to the Superior Court. 

Pete was appointed in 1987 and took to judging like a SEAL to water.  He jumped in with both feet and quickly mastered the requirements of being a good trial court judge.  Shortly thereafter he was appointed to the Superior Court.

As one would expect Pete took on the toughest assignments.  In the early 90’s we both sat in Juvenile Court.  Pete took on a dependency calendar, which is emotionally the most demanding assignment on any court. 

I am reminded of a quote from Pete’s favorite political figure, Theodore Roosevelt: "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Pete achieved that prize as a Juvenile Court Judge.

There is no jury so the judge must make all of the critical decisions that determine whether and under what circumstances a child may remain with his or her parents.  Pete heard cases all day long and then read a massive stack of files in preparation for the next day’s calendar.  He was totally dedicated to being fully prepared and to making the best decisions possible in a very emotionally charged arena.  He did it with a calm, gentlemanly demeanor that let all the concerned parties know that they had been heard and their position carefully considered.

As Teddy Roosevelt also said: "Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage." Pete was a consummate gentleman, with limitless courage who was courteous to all. Even after he retired, Pete worked on assignment half time doing dependency cases.  In addition to that you would find Pete playing games with the children in the oncology ward at Rady Children’s Hospital, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless and taking history courses at UCSD.

When Pete married Betsy, it seemed like a match made in heaven but I think it was more likely made in the water.  We were very happy for both of them, and as an additional bonus our food bill declined substantially. They were married for over 20 years.  Even with his disease, he insisted on having a renewal of vows to mark 20 years.

Hopefully my remarks have given you some insight into five decades of a man loved and admired by so many.  So Igor you now have permission to take off that pack, you have carried it well and faithfully.  You will be in our hearts forever.   

Carry on, Capt. Riddle.

No comments:

Post a Comment