As an asbestos attorney with years of experience, I’ve gotten to know a lot of judges. Some good; some great. Recently we lost a great one. Judge Henry Ramsey Jr. He was 80 years old and retired. But he continued to actively work with the nonprofits that meant so much to him – those that helped minority kids from poor backgrounds get on the right track. Because he had once been one of those kids, too.
I went to his memorial service Saturday in Wheeler Auditorium on the University of California’s majestic Berkeley campus. That was fitting because he went to law school at Berkeley’s School o f Law. And now a scholarship is being created there to honor his memory.
Hard to believe that this distinguished jurist was once a poor African American high school dropout, born in the segregated deep South of the 1930s. But Judge Ramsey never forgot. Nor did he forget those that took an interest in him and convinced him he could go to college when he was a young enlisted man in the Air Force. He went to Howard University in Washington D.C. where years later he returned as the Dean of their law school.
But it was in the Air Force where he learned this bit of motivational wisdom he always shared: “When the enemy comes, you are either ready or you are not.” It reminds me of Yoda’s “Do or do not. There is no try.” I continue to pass it along to our young attorneys here at Kazan Law.
I knew of his wonderful reputation when he was first appointed to the bench. When he inherited the job of Presiding Judge, there was a tremendous backlog of asbestos cases. I was the plaintiffs’ liaison counsel for all asbestos cases in Alameda County. They were mostly our cases anyway. He made it a priority to set up a program to bring these cases forward and to deliver justice to victims of asbestos exposure. I worked closely with him to get these cases going.
After he left the bench to become law dean at Howard, we were doing a class action settlement and had formed a class action trust. I nominated him to be one of three trustees. Sometimes we’d have our meetings in his office at Howard.
Every year our firm’s foundation would donate in his honor to some of the excellent local organizations he fostered. We will continue to do so.
He was a distinguished man – a judge, an attorney, a professor, a law school dean and community leader. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. A good man. I will miss him.