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Four daughters remember the "nine notable decades of Robert Boochever"

Late judge was a renaissance man, instrumental in the growth of Juneau

Posted: October 19, 2011 - 12:03am
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Robert Boochever, left, is sworn into the Alaska Supreme Court by Chief Justice George Boney in 1972 in a photograph provided by the family. Boochever would later serve as chief justice from 1975-1978.  Provided by the Boochever family
Provided by the Boochever family
Robert Boochever, left, is sworn into the Alaska Supreme Court by Chief Justice George Boney in 1972 in a photograph provided by the family. Boochever would later serve as chief justice from 1975-1978.

Many might remember Robert Boochever as the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, or as the judge President Carter appointed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980 — the first Alaskan to serve on that panel.

But his children mourned the loss of a man they called Dad. Daughters Barbara, Linda, Ann and Mimi all grew up in Juneau, graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School and are all now in their 50s or 60s. They gathered this week to attend private memorial services and sift through his belongings at his home in Pasadena, where he died of natural causes Oct. 9 at the age of 94.

The legal legend who had a long record of protecting individual rights and liberties was a man who tipped his hat to friend and stranger alike as he walked to and from his office in downtown Juneau.

“I used to joke around, ‘You should just keep your hand up there by your hat because you keep doing it over and over.’” Ann, the third daughter, giggled in a recent interview. “Nobody does that today,” she said.

He was an adventurous explorer. He traversed rugged, wintery Canadian terrain with his daughters, sons-in-law and fellow judges and lawyers just to find the perfect remote fly-fishing spot — which he would write about for Alaska Magazine. He also qualified for membership in the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City.

He was a birdwatcher who studied ornithology at Cornell University with famed ornithologist Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Once, in his excitement over spotting an unusual bird on the side of the road, he drove his car off the road into a ditch while driving with his family to North Douglas to get a Christmas tree. He was an athlete who lettered in four sports — football, basketball, tennis and track — in high school and two at Cornell — football and tennis. An avid tennis player, he once almost beat his younger brother, Louis, in a match of adult doubles.

“We were tied, and my father was just delighted because his brother was such a good tennis player,” youngest daughter Mimi recounted. She admitting she urged her father to do a tie-breaker even though he wanted to call it even.

“We lost,” she said, smiling.

The 1974 Juneau Man of the Year was even was a pianist and a singer of campfire songs — typically ones from the 1940s and ‘50s, or even older ones, like “Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built For Two).” Those were usually followed by alma mater Cornell’s, “Far above the Cayuga’s waters, with its wave of blue/ Stands our noble alma mater, glorious to view” after making beer pancakes for the kids at Taku Lake.

Linda, the second oldest child, remembers how her father would end squabbles among the girls by breaking out into resounding song (to the tune of “For he’s a jolly good fellow”): “Oh, we’re the happy Boochevers; oh, we’re the happy Boochevers...”

“By the time it ended, we’d all be singing,” Linda said.

He also sang each of his children to bed with their own special song.

“Mine was ‘Mimi the Goat,’” Mimi remembers. “Because one time we were on a fishing trip at Salmon Creek Dam, and I was running along the steep rocks, and he said, ‘Mimi, you’re just like a goat.’”

She paused. “That was my favorite bedtime song.”

The skiing trips were also memorable, they say, and Ann remembers slogging up ski trails for miles with heavy wooden skis in tow. Her father would always end up carrying them and rubbing her frozen toes later in the cabin. Barbara, the oldest, said her father learned to ski himself with the 10th Mountain Division when in the U.S. Army. He served from 1941 to 1945, leaving at the rank of captain. He loved the fact his daughters loved skiing. He later helped get Eaglecrest Ski Area off the ground so that other families in Juneau could enjoy the same experiences.

Eaglecrest was just one of the many local committees and activities he was involved with. He was also the president of the Juneau Bar Association from 1971-72, Chairman of the Juneau Chapter of the American Red Cross from 1949-51, member of the site-selection committee of the University of Alaska Southeast, the Juneau Planning Commission from 1956-61, president of Juneau Rotary Club from 1966-67 and president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce from 1952-54.

There was a poem or letter to mark every special occasion, but his daughters had no idea how extensive their father’s records were was until they went through a filing cabinet last week at his house in Pasadena, where he moved after residing in Juneau for 40 years. The daughters found a vast collection of poems, letters he wrote and received from his parents in the 1930s, a 1932 manuscript of the saga of a valley of people with no ears which he wrote when he was about 15 or 16 years old, and records related to some of his earlier cases while he was assistant U.S. attorney, the job that brought him to Juneau in January of 1946.

“He started expressing himself through writing very early,” Barbara said, noting many of his documents would be donated to city and state museums in Alaska. “... He was a very meticulous, thoughtful person and he had files for everything. It was not only a tremendous record of his life, but a tremendous record of the time that he was living through. I guess that’s what happens when you live a long life.”

Boochever was known as the best writer on the bench, said 9th Circuit Senior Circuit Judge Dorothy Wright Nelson in an interview from her office in Pasadena on Monday, and could write opinions that were succinct, clear and “right to the point.”

Not only that, but “He was one of the most respected and loved judges on our court,” Nelson said. “I’m not the only one (who felt that way).”

Nelson admired his desire to improve the administration of justice, and his “very radical” ideas on wanting to abolish plea bargaining, a cause she was sympathetic to. Both she and Boochever observed that too often people were pleading guilty to offenses they hadn’t committed just to get out of the legal system, which they both saw as “antithetical to the whole justice system,” Nelson said. In the end, certain restrictions were placed on striking deals for plea bargains.

Boochever’s sense of humor was evident in writing, Nelson noted, and his family notes it was evident all the time. Years ago, he had heart valve surgery and the biological valve replacement was taken from a pig. His first words after the anesthesia wore off, as his family anxiously crouched around his hospital bed to see if he was OK?

“Oink.”

Nelson recalls they wrote a script for a 9th Circuit Court holiday party about 15 years ago, and she and Boochever staged a radio broadcast, emphasizing known idiosyncrasies of some of the unnamed judges, like one who always ended his written memos with the phrase “Thanks for listening.” It was a hit.

“He had this wonderful sense of humor,” Nelson said. “That’s another side of Bob.”

The 9th Circuit Court, based in California, will soon convene in a special session to hold a formal memorial service for Boochever, the assistant circuit executive for the court said by phone, as is custom for when a colleague passes. That date has not yet been set.

Ann said being a judge fit her father perfectly, “He was such a kind, kind man ... He had a real conscience and integrity and honesty, those sort of gentlemanly qualities he epitomized.” And somehow, Boochever managed to make time for his kids and family too, something all four daughters marvel at today.

“He managed to find a terrific balance in his life,” Mimi said. “He did so well with his work career, but yet he always found time to do special things with us, with his kids, and his wife.”

Boochever is preceded in death by his younger brother Louis Boochever, his wife of 60 years, Connie, and his second wife Rosemary. He is survived by his four daughters and 11 grandchildren, one of whom is Hilary Lindh, the skiing world champion and Olympic medalist. Contributions may be made in lieu of flowers to the Connie Boochever Arts Endowment at the Alaska Community Foundation, or the UAS Drama Department.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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