Eulogy of Robert B. Yonts, Jr. April 18, 2015

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1 Eulogy of Robert B. Yonts, Jr. April 18, 2015 by Denine Guy, Judge of the Santa Cruz Superior Court I'll begin in the same vein as Robert did in his court Retirement Speech. On behalf of the Yonts and Bridges family, I quote his own words that stated, "I would like to acknowledge the almost invisible presence and thank the staff who worked so hard to make this sellout crowd comfortable." The Father Wayne and his congregation from St. Joseph's Church, Benito and Azarro, Alex and his team from the Santa Cruz Superior Court and JAMS volunteers and the Fallen Officer Foundation have all worked incessantly this past week to bring us together. Thank you. In typical Robert Yonts style he would then acknowledge his family, which you can see is over 60 loving individuals, whom have asked me to express for them gratitude and a warm welcome. It is impossible to call out all people of importance here today, but the fact that you are here means that you were important to Bob, and come from all chapters of his past as elected officials, Judicial officers, schoolmates, from clubs, hunting fishing sailing escapades, business partners, Rotarians, travel companions and all types of co workers and friends. Thank you on behalf of Bjorg, both "his and hers" children (his: Melissa, Christopher, Rob) (hers: Lisa, Carol, David, John, Michael, Rebecca, Quinn and Nico), the 40 grandchild and great grandchildren, and Bob's brother John and his family. The multi faceted diamond, who we all knew as Robert B. Yonts, Jr. led an interesting and eventful life. He lived a full life that he filled with a loving family, friends that became his extended family, and many fans along the way. The Formative Years: Robert Burton Yonts, Jr. is the first of two children born to Dorothy and Robert Burton Yonts, Sr. Bob Jr. was a "war baby", born during World War II on January 24, 1942 to the young couple in Seattle, Washington. "Bobby", as he was known as in the family until he was a teen, was born in very common wartime circumstances. Dorothy Malinowski, a talented stage singer performer eloped from her home in Baltimore, Maryland to marry her wartime bridegroom, a Coastguardsman, Robert. About a year before Bobby s birth they moved to Seattle, where Robert was stationed and assigned to patrol the Alaskan waters far up North. As the war ended, Robert Sr., due to his advanced knowledge of electronics, was selected to work on the cutting edge, Distant Early Warning System, installed to prevent sneak attacks of 1

2 the enemy. While his dad worked installing the system in Alaska, his wife and two young boys moved in with relatives in Southern California. Once the family reunited they continued to reside in Pasadena until Their father was in the Navy Reserve as a Chief Petty Officer, and mother cared for the boys. According to his brother John, 2.5 years longer, Bobby grew to be a boisterous, high energy and active child. It should be no surprise to learn that our friend was an active Cub Scout and that his leadership skills started to emerge while still in elementary school. They were always a close knit family of four. High School: The family later moved to San Mateo County, where Bobby attended the all boys Serra High School and graduated with his still beloved Class of '59. He was an active teen, referred to as "Yippie Yonts" or "Yip" in those days filled with football, friendships and fun. He continued those lifelong friendships and recently went with his Class of '59 pals to spring training in AZ. At the all girls high school nearby, at age 17 he met, and later married Vivian, with whom he began his family and were together they raised their three children all born in the 60s. College: For college he graduated with a major in English, from Santa Clara University in I am told that at one point the young couple lived in a Quonset hut on the Santa Clara campus. I guess as an early version of "married couples housing". As an undergraduate at Santa Clara University, he edited the weekly student newspaper, winning the prestigious Handerly Journalism Prize when he graduated in 1963, about the same time he became a new father to Melissa. From those days, I found a letter he typed to his parents dated March 7, 1961 about his student newspaper. It's typed by him at age 19 on letterhead The Santa Clara, University of Santa Clara, and reads, "Dear Mom and Dad, Just a few lines to show you my nice executive stationary. Just look what you did for me by making me your son. Just think what would have happened if you both had not been so much in love." It's very funny how circumstances change and how new responsibilities are thrown upon us with the passing of time. (Now I'm beginning to philosophize like you Dad.)... My grades are of course suffering a little, they have to. There is no other way around the problem and I honestly think they should at least be slightly secondary now. But don't worry, I'll still do ok. My paper is really getting things moving around here... 2

3 I just read this letter over and I don't really like it. It's too cocky. I know you'll understand though, you're my parents. Your loving son, Bob. " This letter is a wonderful example of his relationship with his parents that he was completely devoted to and maintained a close and loving relationship with them and his brother throughout their lives. Military Service: He enlisted in the military both U.S. Coast Guard and Army. After he spent two years as an officer in the U.S. Army, where he got his first taste of the courtroom. Around the time Christopher was born, while stationed in Germany with the 7th Cavalry Unit (which he was so proud of), young Lt. Yonts was appointed as counsel in special Court Martial cases involving soldiers who were accused of fighting or being absent without leave. Law School: After serving his country and seeing Europe as an Army Officer and thirsty for more of the courtroom action he returned home and attended Santa Clara University Law School. There he served on Law Review, and earned his Juris Doctorate Degree in He worked as a research attorney for Associate Justice Joseph Rattigan of the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. Practice of Law: The following year after Rob, aka Robert III, was born, they he headed south at the behest of his law school friend Jack to the beaches and wild of Santa Cruz. There he was hired by the junior associate Austin, and joined up as an associate attorney and later made partner in the Lucas, Wyckoff & Miller law firm. He practiced with them for 5 years. His Family Recollections: His children recall those early years with their Dad initially living in Santa Clara suburbia, and later a in a big cul de sac neighborhood near UCSC and finally on a couple of acres in Corralitos. They recall their Dad's '57 Chevy, his cutting their hair (always too short), a dogs named Sandy and then Pepper, and a cat Alexander. The family camped and traveled in their white and green Dodge van with camper shell. Speeding off out of town down the road to see something new. He loved reading books and sharing literature and hunting for antiques. 3

4 Even at an early age Melissa recalls being taught how to use a hammer, Dad building and fixing everything himself, his tank like lawn mower and his creative parental motivation of paying them "a penny a weed" out in the yard. Family memories of their Corralitos homestead include their Dad building a barn and all manner of things, saving an abandoned Arabian horse and teaching to ride. They shared with me their dad always encouraged them to try new things and build their abilities. More Practice of Law: He and Austin jumped ship to strike out on their own and in '74 hung their shingle as Comstock & Yonts, which later practiced at the 340 Soquel Avenue legal hub which was built with these and other new tenants in mind. He later joined forces with the opposition and formed Yonts & Skemp in the late 80s which then morphed into a partnership with a young associate attorney David who became his partner in Yonts & Fulton, practicing plaintiff's civil and personal injury litigation until he became a Judge in His legal specialties were: Business Litigation Real Property Personal Injury/Torts Estates/Probate/Trusts It was during this time he gave his heart and soul to the beautiful and talented Norwegian Bjorg and they began their lives together sharing their love of art, house transformations, planting roots in Manzanillo and Big Sur, and loving on their expanded family and continued to do so for over 35 years. For me It was in the last 6 years of his practice that he hired me, a local girl who was going to law school at Monterey College of Law and attended his class on Personal Injury Law. He was so inspirational and loved helping people, I was captivated. He completely drew my attention away from corporate or criminal law which I had thought I would practice. I was sold and knew what I wanted to do with my law degree. He hired me as a legal secretary, quickly promoted me to law clerk, and then offered me an associate attorney position upon passing the bar in '89. He was my mentor and father figure, since the late 80s, my whole adult life. Someone came up to me today and said that he was my "father in law" which I guess he, and I will keep that descriptor with me. Beyond teaching me how to write pleadings, interview clients, and take of depos, he taught me how to hold a client's hand, how to focus and listen to them, and to protect their interests as an advocate. He taught me and others, by his example, that the practice of law, being a counselor at law, took hard work, but mostly it took heart. 4

5 Of course he was the President of all of most groups he was involved in, including the Santa Cruz Bar Association and along with another Robert from Santa Clara, founded the local chapter of California Trial Lawyers in '89 which is still active today. He also was a promoter of women, which especially in the 70s and 80s made him a bit of a pioneer. In the firm he would fill positions such as receptionists, bookkeepers, secretaries with people who came from non legal settings, or who re entered the work place. Why? Because he liked them. He wanted them to "have a shot" at opportunity and skills to be self supporting. He also believed in the expansion of local women lawyers in our legal community and their holding leadership positions and serving as Judges on our local bench. He loved to find that "spark", and he would say, "she's sharp", or "she really knows how to get things done". Throughout his career, and in his personal life he served as an advocate and cheerleader for women throughout this community. We thank him for the lives we lead, built on the steps of encouragement he set before us. For me it was the courthouse steps and I would not be a Judge for these almost 9 years if it had not been for him and I can never repay him for the life that I have now because of it. Judicial Career: Like so many big fishes in little ponds, RBY as we called him in the firm, was called to a higher service to the Santa Cruz Superior Court when he was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson in 1994 to fill the vacancy left by ret. Judge Dick Kessell. Referred to as "Brother Bob" by his fellow black robe wearers, he led our court as Presiding Judge in 2001 and also as our self appointed court historian, his handiwork evident on the wall in Department 5 now carried on by Paul. We will remember him as the Judge with the biggest heart on our bench. He was the one with the quick smile and making sure the staff/bailiffs were all known by first name as well as details of their lives and families. Judge Robert Yonts presided over civil, criminal, family and juvenile dependency cases, prepared and with compassion. His brother John recalls Bob's conversations regarding his handling of the dependency matters and the sharing of his very personal agony over the individual physical suffering of the children that CPS brought to the court's attention. This is why the CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates group was so valued by him. Retirement: This note sums up why our Brother Bob decided it was time for a change and retire. He wrote: "This short note is written to state the purpose of my retirement at the young age of sixty five, actually three years before I can receive a retirement check! Gradually I have come to the realization that we only have so many days and hours on this earth and we never know when the last moment of our life will be." 5

6 He dedicated the note to his dear friends Kathy Akao and Art Danner, both judges who had passed away the year before. On his last day in court he sent out an blast to everyone (Sent: Friday, December 15, :41 AM) which reads: "Thanks for the nice retirement gifts, all of the kind words, the specially lettered retirement cake, your hard work, loyalty, hugs, tears, laughs and prayers over all these years. It was often fun doing these cases together and almost always interesting. My journey in this courthouse started in 1969 and it has been a great ride! The staff is the backbone, and muscle and most of the brains of the entire court system and does an amazing job keeping everyone on the right track. I am proud to be part of it all with you. Thanks again, Judge Bob Yonts" Jan. 2007, to a packed Coconut Grove Sunroom in his retirement speech he said: " On my retirement I hope to give more time to my spouse and my family. I apologize to my family for all the times that I gave priority to the next big case or cases coming up over them. I especially want to be closer with the grandchildren and hopefully change their impression of me as someone walking around in suit and tie always with many important things to do to to someone who can devote his love, time and energy to their needs. And although I will be doing some part time judging, I will not mind having a few more days on the trout stream, sailing on the beautiful pacific ocean, or playing golf with my family and friends." To the Judges and Justices he worked with over the years he penned: "I salute you and thank you for your friendship, support and collegiality over the last years." 46 years in the law. He described in his own words his practice of law, sitting on the bench and then as a retired judge serving as a neutral mediator/arbitrator as: "the adventure of my life. The excitement of new fact situations each day is addictive. You have the job to make things right between parties, to settle their disputes. My thanks to you who entrusted me with this honor... I have found in settlement discussions and mediations that if I listen carefully to the personal feelings, impressions and contentions of the parties and their respective attorneys that I will discover the key to settling the case. The critical issue in a case that prevents it from being decided is often not related to responsibility or damages. It might be an apology for a thoughtless remark by a party. Or 6

7 learning the history of the dispute. Or showing patience with a difficult client. Letting them talk until they have run out of things to say and not rushing them. And sometimes it takes a little humor and storytelling to get people in the mood to settle their case. This is the type work that I have enjoyed so much." In his down to earth way he'd "get to the real meat of the case". He'd love to get to the "Heart of the Matter" which was the title of a feature article in the California legal newspaper called the Daily Journal, September 9, Those quirky, emotional or difficult cases, he'd refer to them as a "Yonts Burgers". His approach he summed up was "I try never to give up. I try to wear them out." How will he be reported? How will he be described in our histories? "Heart of the Matter" is a spot on descriptor for our Robert, Bob, Bobbie, Dad, Husband, Grandpa, Gramps, G PA, UB, Yonsie, Yippie Yonts, Yip, and Brother Bob. I heard that recently he also began calling himself Tractor Bob. His wanderlust took him all over the world to take in the art and history. He'd pack up with his buddies to enjoy the wilds of sailing, diving, fishing, or hunting. He was an all around sportsman and passed that love onto his son Rob and others. He and Bjorg would drive to Mexico in search of rocks that would become beautiful sculpture, that is if they survived the trip in the back of his truck. Other descriptors: A man of service. Service to his friends, family, country, community as we are all aware. He also served internationally with his 29 years in Rotary, other outreach projects, or just on his own initiative. He and his adopted brother Deano installed a water system for a Mexican village that had no water source, or he'd take presents in those brightly colored nylon bags of his to the children in Mexico dressed in his Santa Clause suit which he no doubt worn so much it became thread bear. A fixer. He'd see someone with a problem and take to solving it, fixing it. He thought any sort of attempt was better than paralysis or over planning. He often was the one who would help put moving boxes in a truck and drive them between states to set up apartment for his child or grandchild. He checked in on people, made the rounds and acted. He'd do the repairs, if something was "screwed up". He was driven, he'd make things right. He did that in so many lives in our community, he fixed us. 7

8 A historian, a journalist. He wrote throughout his life. He kept journals and in typical Bob style wrote in notebooks, loose pages, books he re covered, anything he had a hand. Referring to himself as "your reporter herein, Robert Yonts, Jr." he wrote that his notes may be important for his children and others. In those notebooks are resuscitations of facts, observations, reflections, and a life well lived. He was a keeper of friends and he took pleasure in the company of his family, his Class of '59, the 7th Calvary, the sailing hunting fishing groups, the Martini Group, Santa Clara gatherings, Scrabble Club, Rotary, Bocce Team, Golfing buddies, business partners, law firm and Judicial colleagues and friends gathered everywhere along the way. He loved reunions. He was a host to all, always opening his home to help on a event, fundraiser or campaign. These adventures he wrote about in his journals as they were happening, and took thousands of photos of what was going on throughout his life. Your time spent together, all documented, all relived in his mind and committed to page. He did this as a reporter of his time, but also because he was sentimental. He attached human feelings and meaning to people, places and things because they mattered. You all mattered to him. A family man. He was so proud of ALL of his family. He shared his love for all of you, and the many directions the family was always moving in. His life was dedicated to the 9 adult children between he and Bjorg, and to Quinn and Nico. He was so proud of his wife and partner. This was evident in his display of her art and sculpture, always showing you her latest creation. I remember going to community events with Bob and Bjorg, we'd often stand together and he'd point her out and say, "she's so classy", or "she's so beautiful, she just gets to me". His deep love for her and their partnership propelled him every day into "getting things done" without complaint but rather in satisfaction in accomplishment in the life they built. According to the family, if he was invited, he'd come. He attended family gatherings, celebrations, plays, reciticals and anything where he could be there to cheer them on. After so many years of the family having to share him with the law and all of us, he made good on his retirement promise to put them first, made them the priority these past 8 years. A casual, humble man who when introduced to someone with all of official titles, he quietly look them in the eye, take their hand, hesitate a moment and say, "call me Bob". We ask that you continue to celebrate Bob in the weeks and months to come. Pick a Lt., pick someone who gets things done and "huddle" today with your calendars and make a plan. Pick a time this spring or summer to purposefully gather and share his warmth and stories. The original plan was a large post service celebration. However, due to permitted use restrictions at the house, and the current needs of the family, the celebration later today unfortunately will 8

9 need to be only family and extended family. In the months to come I encourage you to reach out to Bjorg, and the family to share your stories, tales and feats of our Robert B. Yonts, Jr. Help the history you hold be passed onto the 40 young people who will carry on his family traditions. You can send or leave cards or messages addressed to them at the court and we can ensure they will be delivered. (Address 701 Ocean Street, Suite C, Santa Cruz 95060) In Closing: He lived a life of service, a life of purpose. He was the peacemaker, the problem solver and the builder of lives. The gardener of the orchard you see here. He nurtured and cared for us all to ensure we'd thrive, blossom and add beauty. In Robert's own words, he wrote, " Life is so short and there is so much to do before the end." He would want us to be doers, fixers, our best selves, and people of action. In closing you let us all make a promise to him and to ourselves to go out and carrying on his goodness. And the final piece to share with you was a part of my wedding that Bob officiated at, and no doubt many of yours. It was from his favorite Irish Blessing, entitled, May the Road Rise Up to Meet You. (An audio clip of Judge Yonts was played) "May the roads rise with you May the Winds always be at your back And May the Lord hold you in the hallow of his hand" Thank you. Eulogy was written utilizing journals, bio and writings of Robert B. Yonts, Jr., A Legal History Book of Santa Cruz County (partially written by friends Austin Comstock, Sara Clarenbach, Robert Bosso), Daily Journal Article Heart of the Matter by Staff Writer Craig Anderson, remembrances by Christopher Yonts and John Yonts. 9

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