Tuesday, February 23, 2010
My wife's father died recently. He was a good guy. He was also a lawyer for 40-some years. (Go figure.) Here's a part of his story:
Richard Hinch Shults was a lawyer and a gentleman, and one of America's "Greatest Generation." Born November 1, 1921, in Batavia, NY, Dick was the son of dentist Nicholas Justin Shults and Mary Francis Hinch (a master bridge instructor). He had two younger sisters, Gracia Maxwell and Peggy Stalnecker, and both eventually played unforeseen roles in his adult life. Gracia introduced him to Mary Frances ("Ro") Best, who became his wife in 1948 and then mother of their six children. And years later, when Ro died suddenly in 1971, sister Peggy provided a crucial assist...
Decades before that, Dick had graduated from Batavia H.S. (in 1939), then attended Holy Cross University--where in addition to academics he showed a mastery of bridge strategy, ping pong, tennis, and pool. Following college graduation in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps. Having "too many teeth" (as he put it) kept Dick from the skies; and years later he told his children that it must have been God's plan, because many of his schoolfriends who made pilot were soon killed in combat.
Dick instead joined the 970th Counter Intelligence Corps assigned to the European Theater and tasked with hunting Nazi Party members who had disappeared back into Germany's general populace. As he later wrote in a letter to one grandson, "One of the places I was stationed with the CIC was Heilbron, Germany, and my job was to search for the leaders of the German underground movement and make sure they were locked up in prison so they could not rekindle the Nazi organizations..."
As an investigator Dick definitely earned his Sergeant's stripes. Among his many spy-novelish adventures: for a time he ate lunch daily with an informant who kept the CIC apprised of which prisoner soldiers were Nazis and which regular German Army. Dick also helped uncover and quash an armed insurrection planned by Hitler Youth, and he interrogated Party members whose information was used to support the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials.
Inspired by these experiences, after his discharge in 1946 Dick attended Columbia Law School on the G.I. Bill, becoming a lawyer in 1950. He was licensed in New York State and Washington, D.C., too--where he was asked to join Clark Clifford's firm. His many assignments there included an odd one: delivering by hand a Christmas gift of personalized golf balls to President Eisenhower at the White House!
But a couple of years of politically oriented law proved to be enough. Dick moved his growing family back to Batavia in 1954, and became a partner in the small firm Kelly and Shults, with a practice focused on real estate law. Over the next many years Dick also served as a public defender (often bringing his young clients home for dinner), and later as an elected city judge. From the time in Batavia, the children recall his many meals at the "animal clubs" (Elks and Moose, that is, and he was a big tipper all his life), his fondness for coffee ice cream, and his daily routine of Air Force exercises performed in his pajamas.
After the death of Ro, father-of-six Dick reconnected, through sister Peggy, with past friend Peggy Ludwiczak, who was herself a widow with four children then living in Cherry Hill, NJ. The two families joined forces in 1972, and quickly blended well, as would be attested today by the combined ten and their own descendants: Sandra, Deborah, Richard, Margaret, Robert, Joseph, Thad, Christine, Rita, and Amy--and their 21 children and five grandchildren. (When Dick proposed, he promised that "Our life will never be dull." After several months of marriage Peg remarked, "Couldn't we have a little dullness?")
The economic recession of the Eighties prompted moves first to Pennsylvania, then to Oklahoma, and finally to Florida, where Dick passed the State Bar Exam at age 63 to support those few Ludwiczak-Shults family members still attending college.
First in Boca Raton, and then Delray Beach, sunny Florida allowed Peggy and Dick to enjoy many good years--new friends, lots of bridge, and cocktails on the patio each evening. (Dick's secret to successful martini making and consuming: add a little water to the gin.)
They were able to travel to the Caribbean several times and to Europe for their delayed honeymoon (Italy, France, and England), and later to Ireland where they visited the grave of Dick's grandparents, the Mahers. (Earlier trips with the kids--grown children later--included many summers spent on Long Island, rambles to Yosemite and Banff, the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Rockies, and grand family reunions in several East Coast cities.)
Dick took down his law shingle for good in 1997 and, finally, this year, his life shingle. He will be greatly missed by that big double family, and all his friends, and the strangers he helped along the way.