Judge Charles Cranston gives an interview in 1996. Off the bench he spent many hours working with local high school students who were interested in law, music and athletics.
Clarion file photo by M. Scott M
Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Cranston died of natural causes early Tuesday morning at Central Peninsula General Hospital. He was 73.
Cranston retired from the bench in 1996, but continued serving as a judge pro tem until his death.
During his retirement, he was instrumental in founding the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court and spent many hours helping peninsula youth prepare for state Mock Trial competition.
"I'm shocked and saddened for his family," said attorney and Youth Court Director Ginny Espenshade, who knew Cranston for more than 20 years.
"He was bigger than life. What he and his wife gave to the community was done at so many levels," she said, adding that he had a huge heart.
"He could see the good in any kid that came through our doors," she said.
"He gave hours of training to youth court students. He went to conferences with us. It was his energy that created this program."
Espenshade came to know Cranston well beyond his public persona as a judge when youth court was incorporated in 1996.
"He was just a prankster," she said. "I really feel fortunate to have gotten to know him that way, as a person, I mean. He definitely will be missed."
Kenai attorney Carol Brenckle, who has practiced law on the Kenai Peninsula since August 1984, has known Cranston virtually all of that time. She learned of his death while driving south to Homer on Tuesday.
"I spent all that time thinking about the many contributions he made to the legal community, and the community in general, and especially to the kids in our community," she said.
Cranston was everything a good judge should be, she said.
"He maintained his distance. He would be neutral. I never felt he prejudged a case," she said.
"He had the wisdom of Solomon. Anyone who is a judge in Alaska would look up to him as the epitome. He was a judge for all times."
In domestic relations cases, he was particularly compassionate to those going through the turmoil of divorce, paying special attention to the needs of the children involved.
"He could reach out and help them resolve their differences and reach an understanding that would be in the children's best interests," Brenckle said.
Cranston had a great sense of humor, she said, and his writing skills lent themselves to creating clever scenarios that captured the attention of youth court students.
"We have kids in law school today because of him," Brenckle said. "He's made a difference in kids' lives. He made a difference in mine."
Born in Denver in 1932, Cranston received his law degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1959.
In 1968, he moved to Alaska, where he joined the Attorney General's Office, first in Juneau and then serving in Anchorage. In 1972, he entered private practice in Anchorage, focusing on civil cases, according to a press release issued by the Alaska Court System upon his death.
Cranston was appointed to the Kenai Superior Court in 1981 by Gov. Jay Hammond.
Kenai Administrative Judge Harold Brown was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Cranston's dedication to children extended to hosting foreign exchange students, tutoring foreign languages over his lunch hour and guiding local youth on annual bike tours of Europe, according to a court system statement.
In 1997, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce recognized Cranston's volunteer service with its annual Log Cabin Award, the press release said.
Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Bryner said, "All Alaskans have lost a great public servant, and people of the Kenai have lost a wonderful mentor and friend."
Cranston is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two children, Kelli and Mark.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Peninsula Memorial Chapel in Kenai.
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