The community lost a good and kind man last Sunday (June 20) when Larry Hammerling passed away peacefully at his St. Paul home. Larry was the longtime Chief Appellate Public Defender, the man whose office argued appeals for those convicted of crimes who could not afford their own attorneys. He also taught at William Mitchell College of Law and influenced a generation of prosecutors, private attorneys and public defenders.
Larry was widely praised for his integrity and his professionalism by Supreme Court justices and by his office colleagues alike.
But there was another, more personal side of Larry that touched everyone he knew. Larry and I met in 1998 outside a Montessori school in our Highland Park neighborhood. As we waited for our adopted Chinese daughters to finish the day, we discovered that his Lily and my Sadie came as babies from the same orphanage in Xiamen, China. We determined that they must have been in the orphanage at the same time. Now, by a quirk of fate, they were classmates and friends some 12,000 miles away. The girls, now 15, are still friends. Larry was a second Dad for my daughters all these years, kind, supportive, generous of his time and always patient.
We coached t-ball together and while neither of us would ever assume a major league managing job, Larry was an excellent coach. He knew how to work with kids. He had a deft touch explaining batting stances and how to throw out a runner at first. His dedication and commitment to those kids was remarkable. He never seemed to lose interest or get frustrated. He knew this was a big deal for the kids and he engaged them in learning and in having a good time.
Larry never stopped being supportive. He attended every basketball game that our daughters played for four years together from fifth grade through 8th grade. He was often the first one in the stands and the last to leave. He never criticized or complained, just cheered for the girls in his quiet way. He always managed a sense of humor about the game, win or lose.
And this past year, even while suffering the effects of a brain tumor, he made it to every junior varsity basketball game our girls played for Highland High School. Larry never complained about his situation even though as the days wore on his health deteriorated. I remember having lunch with him a couple years ago shortly after he had surgery. He was cheerful and optimistic, an inspiration for the rest of us. A few weeks ago, when things had obviously taken a turn for the worse, I stopped by to see Larry. An ardent Twins fan, he was sitting peacefully in a wheel chair watching a daytime Twins game. It was more difficult for him to speak now, but he was as into the game as ever. I was hoping to take him to Target Field this summer, but we never made it.
As a good an attorney as he was, Larry wanted to become a judge. So when former Governor Jesse Ventura opened up the selection process for judgeships, Larry applied to become a Court of Appeals judge. I suppose he needed some non-lawyer support so he asked me to write a letter on his behalf, which I was honored to do. Having been a former reporter who covered courts way back, I wrote: “I found some of the best judges were the ones who not only had excellent legal credentials, but who had life experiences which made them better people. Larry Hammerling is that kind of man. I’m sure most of the applicants are outstanding attorneys. But I wonder how many have traveled to China to adopt a daughter, sailed across the Atlantic on a Norwegian square rigger, been a cab driver and laborer, worked as a young attorney on an Indian Reservation in Nebraska or coached t-ball with the patience of Job.”
That is the Larry Hammerling I will remember. He will be dearly missed by his wife Paula Duthoy, his daughters Lily and Elena, his extended family and friends and the entire community he served so well.
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