RIP Dad. The only hero I ever had who never let me down. When I was young I looked up to you in awe. As I grew older and you became more human you only grew in stature. You were always my Dad but became a great friend, mentor, and role model. It is the friendship I will miss the most. You were the best.
I learned so much from the way my dad valued people. He seemed to take a genuine interest in everyone that crossed his path - even the people who had stolen from him or those he didn't agree with on major issues. Over the last two years he had many hospital stays and the hospital staff unanimously loved working with him.
Even after waking up from a major surgery he would take interest in the person who was helping him - asking how they were, about their interests, and so on. My wife and I decided to become his students in this regard. We'd tell each other about our attempts to "do a Bob." I don't think either of us are as adept as my dad at helping people feel special and valued. We've each practiced and experienced some great victories. We are improving.
In the years before his death we had ample time to talk, ask each other's forgiveness for the times we were not at our best, get curious about each other, and explore the mysteries of life.
My dad was all about helping those who are less privileged and creating a more even playing field. He put his life on the line while marching for civil rights in the 60s. He put his career on the line more times than I can count. He put his heart on the line repeatedly for those he loved including me. I couldn't ask for a better role model.
I appeared before Bob (as he insisted I call him when we met) on two occasions while he was on the Court. I have always opposed the death penalty and was so impressed when he resigned. A few years later, Bob enrolled as an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association and was in an arbitrator training class that I was teaching. I saw him and instantly recognized him. I confess I was a little intimidated by his presence. He came up to thank me after the class, held out his hand and said, "Don, I'm Bob Utter." I said "I know and you're most welcome, Justice Utter." He replied, "Call me Bob." I saw him numerous times after that at AAA gatherings, he always remembered and spoke to me. Bob really was a giant in our profession, humble, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the rule of law. We are all poorer without him.
If we’re lucky, we meet maybe a half dozen people in our lives who truly exemplify how we’re supposed to live. Bob Utter seemed blessed with just the right understanding of God’s love for humanity and what should be returned by us in response. In 1968, I was the sole Deputy Prosecuting Attorney assigned to the King County Juvenile Court, where Judge Utter presided over an exhausting caseload reflecting all the sad and unfair aspects of modern life. We traded life stories and observations during coffee breaks; and, as would later occur in several trials in his court downtown, he showed what it meant to be “an officer of the court” in pursuit of justice. As an appellate judge, he exhibited superb scholarship and never lost sight of the humanity of the litigants and the need for compassion. By no means was he a “bleeding heart liberal” unresponsive to the needs for public safety and accountability in society; yet he possessed a healthy dose of humility when it came to assessing how capable we are in determining who should be sent to the execution chamber in order to vindicate our collective wisdom.
In 1987, Bob co-led a group of lawyers and judges on a People-to-People trip to China. He and Betty would continue doing such good works on an international scale for many years. In Bob’s last days, he maintained his consistent interest in helping improve the justice systems of many countries and the lives of people throughout the world. For those of us whose paths crossed with this man, we’re struck by our good fortune. We can only ask God to send us more like him; and, in the meantime, we can show our gratitude by striving to follow his example.
Some people never die...they simply take a rest as their work continues the journey for them. May God give strength to the family and keep his spirit in heaven.
Bob Utter has inspired and mentored many lawyers and judges in Washington, but his impact has been even more far-reaching. I count myself lucky to have joined him on a US AID-sponsored trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 1995 to demonstrate how to conduct trials in an adversarial system. On repeated occasions we would arrive in a jurisdiction to set up a mock trial program for lawyers and judges and suddenly Bob would be nowhere to be seen. The remainder of our delegation would proceed to put on the formal program. Where was Bob on those occasions? He was invariably consulting privately with the presiding or senior jurist about how to free the courts from the corruption that had been endemic in earlier years and how to establish a genuinely independent judiciary. Bob had been in most of those jurisdictions on prior visits, and had inspired such trust that his return trips were eagerly anticipated as opportunities to consult on and overcome legal and practical obstacles to justice. Yet even when he had not been in a jurisdiction before, his reputation had preceded him and doors would open.
And, on a personal level, even though Bob was not a drinking man, he managed to take in stride seemingly endless toasts at official banquets (occasions where failing to down each and every shot of vodka would be taken as an insult) with grace and eloquence and, may I add, with a non-alcohol-induced twinkle in his eye. He had patience, strength, and a generosity of spirit that could not be hidden.
We will miss him greatly, but we will not be alone in finding him irreplaceable.
Betty, I'm very happy we got to see you and Bob two years ago. Bob was always one of my favorite people that I looked up to. The very best to you and your family, Ray Gwinn
Loving Christian, loving husband, loving parent, loving grandfather, loving uncle, loving friend and mentor. My Dad introduced me to chocolate chip mint ice cream and ever since I've had a passion for it. My Dad and I shared a love for our dogs. I miss him a lot as he was a close friend and mentor.
Over the years I heard quite a bit about Bob, from John. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Bob twice - once at a band gig where John and I were performing and once at John and Robin's new house. It was obvious to me that Bob supported and wanted to be involved in John's adventures. This was a very cool thing for me to witness up close and personal.
All during my public service as a lobbyist for DSHS and then as Ombudsman for Seattle and King County, Bob would drop by to see how I was doing. He was holding his hand on my shoulder, so to speak, giving me the confidence to take risks and do something bold as a public official charged with making the government more responsive. As a judge at all levels in the state, Bob knew the working of the political process and shared those insights. He also referred good people that I hired to help develop a team work approach to problem solving.
Pop-pop always had a way of astonishing me with his travels with grandma. It seemed one week they were in Africa, and the next, they were in some other crazy country preventing world war III. I always loved hearing about where they were going, but this time is the only time I don't know where he's going.
I was honored to work with Justice Utter in Serbia, back in 2002. Not only did he speak to Serbian judges about ethics, integrity and impartiality, but he epitomized it by every move he made, by his posture, attitude and wording. While traveling all around Serbia, my two colleagues and I had a chance to talk with Bob Utter about various things, often beyond professional topics – family, aspirations, things we would like to achieve in life... At that time, we were young, at the sunrise of our careers.He talked a lot about his loving wife, children and grandchildren. We were all deeply touched by his humanity, patience and compassion, but above all his grandeur and simplicity, at the same time. He became a friend, someone I have fondly remembered ever since he walked into our lives, and whose wisdom still visits me, every now and then.
I remember, we once told him about a talent show we had at the ABA CEELI's Annual Meeting in Bratislava, when we played a scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth, acting as the witches around a cauldron. He smiled and mildly said that he would rather remember us as „the three angels of Niš“. I still have the video lecture, filmed before he left Serbia, because we wanted his wise words to somehow stay with us and reach as many Serbian judges as possible in the coming years. We kept using it for our judicial ethics workshops for years after that. Else, I have kept a couple of old-fashioned photos taken at the District Court of Niš, South Serbia and a silk scarf which I got as a present upon his departure. He even saw to it that each of the three of us gets a proper color... Mine was blue.
For all I know, Justice Utter was one of those people that come by your life and stay there forever.
Greetings to The Family of Judge Robert French Utter.
I thank God for Judge Utter. Don Anthony White was my brother.
God really does Raise Up Judges.
Judge Robert Utter was one of the finest human beings to walk this planet.
Judge Utter, as well as my brother’s legacy of leadership and transformation has been an example of the tempering of a human spirit at its finest. People do change and often in tandem. Don and Judge Utter were intrinsically intertwined within the tapestry of life, each bringing out of the other what is right, honest, and growing to inevitably make us better. As Judge Utter did in choosing to release my brother, great leaders make decisions sacrificing self, time, effort, prestige, position and resources. Nothing matters except completing the “Why” for which life obtains meaning.
Rest in Peace, Amen.