Norman B. Richards ’45

Norman B. Richards ’45 died in early February 2015 in Sausolito, California.

(The following appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2015.)

A maritime lawyer and civil litigator in the San Francisco Bay Area for over four decades, died at his Sausalito home shortly after his 90th birthday, with his wife at his side.

Born in Melrose, Massachusetts in 1924, Norm was educated in the northeast and never quite lost the New England quirks of pronunciation which endeared him to family and friends. As a young man, his college years were shaped by the looming presence of World War II. He accelerated his time-to-degree by taking courses through the summers to receive a B.S. degree in mathematics from Bowdoin College in 1944. His education at Bowdoin was interrupted by a stint at Bates College in the Navy B12 program to prepare him for naval duty. His choice of mathematics, also influenced by the war, enabled him to enter the Navy as an officer. Norm became the skipper of an LCT landing craft in New Guinea and spent almost three years in the South Pacific. During his service as skipper he learned to problem-solve in creative ways (he characterized it as being in the “dogface” rather than the “spit and polish” Navy). These early leadership experiences, combined with Norm’s ironic sense of humor and a natural tendency not to stand on ceremony or to worry too much about anything, became a foundation for both his professional success and personal happiness. His wartime years also led to his lifelong enthusiasm for all things having to do with the sea.

After the war, he attended Stanford Law School on the GI bill and received his L.L.B and J.D in 1951. Hired by McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, which by chance had an immediate opening in its maritime law practice, he became a partner in 1960, remaining with the McCutchen firm for his entire career. He went on to become head of their admiralty department and a leading figure in admiralty law in the Bay Area. Norm always said that admiralty practice was the most interesting part of his law career, and he felt, as many maritime lawyers did then, that they were a breed apart from other lawyers. He was one of four remaining lawyers (out of 17) of the Admiralty Lunch Group, begun in 1962, who still meet for monthly lunches in San Francisco. He looked forward to the camaraderie of those lunches and managed to attend almost to the end of his life.

A Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Norm was also renowned for his accomplishments in the courtroom. His down-to-earth, understated manner of addressing juries made him an extremely successful litigator and enabled him to explain complex technical issues in high stakes trials. He gave back to the legal community by teaching a number of trial advocacy courses for Hastings Law School.

After retirement from McCutchen, he continued to be involved with the legal community. He particularly enjoyed doing Judge Pro-tem assignments for the SF Superior Court, as well as arbitrations and private consulting in trial work. He also participated in a number of trial training programs for associates of the McCutchen firm.

Norm traveled extensively, both before and after retirement. The McCutchen firm instituted a sabbatical program for its partners in 1979 in response to his announcement that he was going to take a three-month leave of absence to travel with his wife. He was a fearless and curious travel companion, willing to go anywhere and do anything. He took up snorkeling in his fifties and continued to snorkel all over the world through his mid-eighties. He especially loved Italy and its culture, and he made his final trip there at age 83.

In his seventies, Norm took up Argentine tango dancing, an activity which coalesced with his love of travel. Dancing tango became a way of interacting with locals in the areas to which he traveled. With his wife, he made several trips to Buenos Aires to dance and experience the culture. France, Italy and Spain were favorite venues, as well as numerous places in the US. During his final illness, he was able to enjoy tango with his Bay Area friends up until three months before his death.

In his last years, he constantly expressed his gratitude for the good health that had enabled him to enjoy a full life into advanced old age. His natural inclination not to take anything too seriously, as well as an enormous capacity to enjoy each moment to its fullest, contributed both to his professional success and to a long life well lived. At the end, despite the deprivations of his final illness, he found contentment in small, daily pleasures: his ubiquitous greensheet and comic strips from the SF Chronicle (well-known to friends, family and colleagues alike), his cat, and visits from friends. He especially appreciated the care and attention he received from his wife, his children, his granddaughter and his niece Christina. To his last day, he retained the beautiful smile and twinkle in the eye that charmed all who knew him.

Norm is survived by his wife of 37 years, Diane Richards; his children from a previous marriage, Jeffrey and Terri Richards; and his granddaughter Kara Ayn Napolitano and her fiancé Edward Chin-Lyn.