By Jay Fidell
The Coral Ballroom never seemed so crowded. More than 900 people showed up at the WSRSOL 90th birthday party for CJ William S. Richardson. The gemutlichkeit was running free, punctuated by champagne toasts. Everyone seemed to know each other, and that’s a mighty large network for Hawaii, or anywhere.
The animated handshakes filled the room cheek-to-cheek, and there were old friendships rekindled, old contentions forgotten and new introductions exchanged. The kind of open socialization that really feels good after a long Friday.
The Richardson family was there in force, as was the Law School and for that matter the University, featuring Dean Avi Soifer, Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and UH President MRC Greenwood, immersed in graduates, the bar and the legal community.
The program was elegant. Not just the obligatory birthday greetings, but a well-made movie of his life, more than nostalgia - a lesson in Hawaii history. It included footage and interviews not only of CJ and his family but important events with his close friends John Burns and John Burns’ son Jim Burns.
The judges spoke, Ron Moon and Craig Nakamura, to give CJ their thanks for his help and support over the years. The dean spoke of how important CJ was, is and will always be to the Law School, and how they are raising money to raise the roof, a project the dean has been working on since he arrived.
The centerpiece was CJ himself. Working up to it, he listened and smiled as we learned the details and depth of his professional and personal life. But then it was his turn to speak. It was hard for him to get to the podium, and it wasn’t clear what would happen when he got there.
At first he made fun, asking what he was supposed to be doing there, quips that caught you off guard, charmed you and brought you close to him. Then he spoke more seriously and moved into a poetic expression of his appreciation to those around him, making us all family for the moment.
He spoke softly, but with the crisp edge of a man skilled in the law. He chose every word so carefully and tailored his remarks so perfectly for the occasion of the 900 strong. It was pure haiku. I envied that he could talk to us with such precision, and reach us with such warmth, even from the frailty of age.
With all that, his remarks were brief. I think they were well less than five minutes, all the more of a phenomenon. I will remember the evening as a compliment to the school and the community, as a collection of post-statehood generations coming together with heartfelt admiration for a special friend.
The tables held hands as we sang to close. Thanks, Dean Soifer, for putting this together. I hope you do it again, and I hope you raise your roof, as you did on Friday night, with the same inimitable style.