Judge Donald R. Ross is gone

photo (19)In 1972, I graduated law school and began to serve as a law clerk to the Honorable Donald Roe Ross, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The judge became my mentor, and, later, my dear friend. Judge Ross died yesterday. He was 91 years of age.

I have previously written about the judge and his heroism during the Second World War. I will have far more to say in later posts about that valor and Don’s life as a lawyer and a judge.

But for now, I reprint the dedication to Judge Ross of the fourth issue of volume 66 of the Nebraska Law Review that I wrote in 1987 on the occasion of the judge taking senior status. I do so for a particular purpose. I will briefly elaborate upon that purpose in a moment. First, please do me the honor of reading what I wrote some 25 plus years ago:


When Don Ross personally negotiated the remaking of the Republican party after the Barry Goldwater debacle, he displayed the touchstone of all great American leaders and that was a spirit of, and deeply felt belief in, the practical* rather than the theoretical. Back then, being a loyal and highly respected Republican (and, later, a great judge) did not mean that you were an obsessive and compulsive ideologue. Oh, how I wish that were so now.


*See, e.g., Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Book 1, Chapter 10 (1835) (“Why The Americans Are More Addicted To Practical Than To Theoretical Science”).

PS For those who knew the judge and wonder about arrangements, the Omaha World-Herald recognizes today, on the obituary page, Don’s passing. Additionally, a “complete notice [will be provided] later,” according to the John A. Gentleman Mortuaries.

15 responses

  1. When a person dies, Jewish people sometimes say, referring to God, “blessed is the true judge.” A secular honor with the same blessing can be bestowed on your friend and mentor. Not all who wear the robe are worthy.

  2. You are an honorable legacy to his mentoring. I’m sure he was proud of the good work you have done and continue to do. And that’s saying something.

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  4. Trish,

    Yes, he was a “great” man in the real sense of that word. He was also a “good” man in the real sense of that word. The world will seem less sane without him.

    He also officiated at my marriage to Joan. Just the kids and Don and Janice attended. We ate chicken salad sandwiches afterwards. Joan and I then drove to Valentine, Nebraska to stay the night at the Super Eight. Some memories are more important than others.

    Thanks for writing. All the best.


  5. Lorin,

    Thank you for writing. While the judge was imperfect, I have no doubt that “the true judge,” should there be one, will bless Judge Ross.

    All the best.


  6. Slowly but surely, we see the passing of the era of the “gentleman judge,” appointed on the basis of merit, and that is lamentable in itself. As such, while I did not know Judge Ross, I share in your loss.

  7. Back then, being a loyal and highly respected Republican (and, later, a great judge) did not mean that you were an obsessive and compulsive ideologue. Oh, how I wish that were so now.

    Amusingly, Barry Goldwater [quotes from 1994] agrees:

    Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

    When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

    As a card-carrying member of the “adult wing” of the Republican Party, “Ah feel yore pain.” Senator Goldwater was prescient.

  8. While this Baby Boomer did not know Judge Ross, it is sad to see another honorable member of the Greatest Generation pass away. The core belief of the judge’s generation in the concept of “All for one, and one for all,” has, in America, been replaced with a “What’s in it for me” mantra. Sad day for those who knew Judge Ross and everyone who still believes in the character traits that he exemplified.

    My sympathies.


  9. RGK, Thank you for posting this tribute to Judge Ross. He was, indeed, a wonderful judge, mentor and friend. As I reflect on his life and his impact on me since first meeting him in 1982, I can’t help but feel gratitude for his wisdom, frankness, sense of humor, and friendship. I learned so much from him about the law and about tolerance and fairness. I will never forget him. Sandy Dougherty

  10. Sandy,

    So nice to hear from you. And, of course, I agree with everything you wrote especially “wisdom, frankness, sense of humor, and friendship.”

    All the best.


  11. Judge,

    History will determine the makings of a loyal and highly respected Republican. It frequently departs from the whims of the moment. The marathon matters more than the sprint.

    All the best,

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