1. What did you think of 2009?
This has been a watershed year for me in which I implemented plans that I made long ago, as well as spontaneous ideas. This year brought me a lot of joy, solitude, and contentment, mixed with sorrow and ongoing reminders of both my own aging and mortality, and the fragility and unpredictability of life.
Ironically, the bookends encapsulating my memories of 2009 will always be the deaths of two men who played very important roles in my life. Ironically, they were both aware of each others’ existence and spoke on the telephone, although they never met.
In late January 2009, I was in my hotel room on a business trip when I got a disturbing email from my dear friend Clint Ritchie’s bookkeeper. She apologized for notifying me in that manner, but was too upset to speak on the telephone. Clint had undergone successful surgery to implant a pacemaker, but a couple of days later a bloodclot caused him to suffer a massive stroke. He was conscious and aware of his circumstances — and competent to make his own medical decisions. He opted not to accept the long-shot treatment options offered by his physicians, and died peacefully a few days later at the age of 70. I paid tribute to my departed friend here.
And in early December 2009, I was surprised by a message from the law firm in Stockton where I practiced for more than seven years. I immediately knew something was wrong when I heard Sharon, long-time secretary to the senior partner, ask me to call her as soon as possible. I was shocked when she told me that Jerry D. Hall died suddenly the previous day. Jerry had been ill, but was feeling better, and gradually easing out of the full-time practice of law to spend more time with his wife, daughters, and grandchildren. Those plans were derailed when he succumbed to a ruptured brain aneurysm. Like Clint, he was only 70 years old.
While in law school, I worked as a law clerk for two different firms, the second devoted to insurance defense cases. I had no desire to remain there after graduating and passing the Bar Exam. One day in early 1993, the name “Nat Brown” came to mind. I hadn’t thought about Nat for many years, and had never met him. But I recalled the way my father used to talk about him. Nat practiced law in Stockton and represented the Lincoln-Mercury and Ford dealerships in this region. In particular, he a good friend of Gene Gabbard, the man who owned the dealership where my father was employed as a transmission specialist for 27 years. My father was not easily impressed, but he spoke about Nat with awe-like respect and admiration. I wondered if Nat was still practicing and was delighted when I found him listed in the local telephone book. I immediately sent a resume and letter of inquiry to his firm. Ironically, Nat was retired but still maintained an office and part-time secretary at the firm. I was contacted by one of his partners, and after passing muster with him, was informed that I needed to meet the other two partners, as well.
I will never forget the day I was ushered into “Jer’s” office. He and his surroundings were imposing, but he was warm and, although he was a bit intimidating, I knew I could work with him. I was delighted to join the firm, first as a Certified Law Clerk and, immediately upon receiving my Bar results, as an attorney.
I was fortunate to get to know Nat, enjoying a cup of coffee with him on the mornings he was in the office as we discussed strategies and trial tactics. I have never known a smarter, more skillful — or charming — attorney. It quickly became clear why my father paid him so much respect. Nat had the innate ability to speak to anyone on any topic, making that individual feel important and valued. By the time I had the privilege of “picking his brain” he had already forgotten more about trying cases that I will probably ever know. Nat died a few years ago, but I remember him fondly and with great appreciation and admiration.
Jerry’s office was next door to mine and we had a lot of fun, teasing each other mercilessly about various matters, including my friendship with Clint. But Jerry, like Nat, was an experienced litigator and much-valued gentle, but firm, role model and mentor. I was fortunate to graduate from law school in my mid-30’s with prior work experience and land an excellent job with such a small firm because I was able to forge a relationship with the partners founded upon mutual respect and confidence — I was entrusted with assignments and responsibilities that would not have been handed off to a younger, less worldly “baby lawyer.” And I was the lucky benefactor of the type of “hands-on,” personal tutelage, coaching, and direction that new attorneys working in larger firms only dream about. Jerry used to pace around my desk as he grilled me about the intricacies of my cases. I can still hear his voice: “Janie, as an attorney, you have to think about the issues, analyzing them from every angle.” I have repeated that mantra countless times over the years as I’ve mentored and supervised less experienced lawyers, always smiling as I recalled Jer saying those words to me.
I would have become a partner and remained with the firm for the duration of my career, but another partner was brought into the practice, so I opted to wait and see how his presence changed the firm’s complexion. In fact, on New Year’s Eve 1999, I spent the afternoon with Clint at Happy Horse Ranch discussing in detail the way the injection of a new partner had changed the firm’s overall climate, especially staff morale. It was in no small part because of my conversation with Clint that I left the firm nine months later, deciding to wholly devote my professional advocacy to civil rights in California workplaces and housing accommodations.
I stayed in touch with my former colleagues and will always be grateful for the time I spent working with them, as well as the knowledge and advice Jerry imparted to me. My professional debt to him is immeasurable.
2. What do you think was the news story of the year?
All aspects of the ongoing economic crisis, including President Obama’s efforts to address it. The State of California is facing yet another huge budget deficit, so I believe that 2010 is going to be full of more challenges than 2009.
3. What happened this year that you never want to hear another word about?
The fall from grace of Tiger Woods.
4. What was your favorite song of 2009?
I really can’t name one.
5. What did you accomplish this year?
I purchased a second home, moved into it on September 5, 2009, and have comfortably settled into it. For the sake of my own mental and physical health, as well as that of my children, I extricated myself from a marriage that died many years ago. My only regret is that I didn’t take action sooner, because I like my husband so much better now that I don’t have to cohabit with him! We are domestically incompatible — and always have been. I also enjoyed a couple of significant professional victories.
6. Did you learn anything new this year?
I learn something new each and every day, so it would literally be impossible to summarize everything I learned this year. I expect next year — and every subsequent year — to be the same way. I believe that when you stop learning, you cease experiencing the fullness, beauty and wonder of life.
7. What are you looking forward to in the new year?
I am very blessed — I have so much to look forward to, including the Stockton Concert Band’s return engagement at Carnegie Hall in New York City, during which I will be playing both flute and piano. MattieBoo will be graduating from high school and beginning college next fall. He has already received acceptance letters from several colleges, so he has some very important decision-making ahead of him.
8. What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?
As I have written about previously, we will be right here at home, enjoying a lovely prime rib dinner, delicious glass of wine, and crackling fire.
9. What’s the best thing you ever did on a New Year’s Eve?
Exactly what I plan to do this year: Stay home, prepare a delicious dinner that my boys enjoy, and relax in front of the fire, feeling at peace, contented, and uncommonly fortunate!
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