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Chief Justice's daughters remember Boochever

Posted: October 20, 2011 - 8:10am

JUNEAU (AP) -- 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 for daughters Barbara, Linda, Ann and Mimi, he was Dad. They all grew up in Juneau, graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School and are in their 50s or 60s. They gathered this week to attend private memorial services and sift through his belongings at Boochever's 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,"' said Ann, the third daughter. "Nobody does that today."

Boochever 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.

The 1974 Juneau Man of the Year 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.

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.

He was 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.

"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.

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."

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. 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."

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