In Memoriam: Bob Wollheim (1948-2019)

by Steven Goldberg and Larry Kleinman, NLG-Portland

Our friend, comrade, and long-time Portland Guild Member Bob Wollheim died on September 21, 2019. He’s survived by his three sons, a wonderful grandson, countless friends and colleagues, and a legacy of doing amazing work.

Bob grew up on the south side of Chicago and came to Oregon to attend Reed College—years later he finished his BA at Portland State. The transfer and hiatus was due to Bob’s principled and brave decision to resist the military draft during the Vietnam War. Judge Gus Solomon in US District Court in Portland convicted Bob of refusing induction. He was sentenced and served four months at the federal minimum security prison at Safford, Arizona before his conviction and sentence were reversed on a technicality of administrative procedure.

Bob spent years working as a paralegal and then went to law school, graduating from Lewis & Clark in 1983. As Bob delighted in recounting, Judge Solomon swore him in as an attorney. During all this time, he was an active member of the Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Bob’s specialty was workers’ compensation, eventually including a sub-specialty in appellate work mostly on those issues. Bob made a point of traveling to nearby Woodburn to advise and represent members of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Oregon’s farmworker union. Bob went on to serve on the board of the Willamette Valley Law Project, PCUN’s sister corporation. He always prized his solid relationship with unions and union members.

In March, 1998, Gov. Kitzhaber appointed Bob to the Oregon Court of Appeals. At Bob’s swearing in, he delivered one of his classic punch lines, pointing out that he was one of the very few judges who had done time before being appointed to the bench. Bob won election to a full six-year term in 1998, and then was re-elected in 2004 and 2010 before retiring in 2014. He drew a challenger in 2004 and Bob’s past “criminal” history did come up in a few of the newspaper editorials (he universally won endorsement). Many unions and community organizations endorsed him and he won handily. Bob underscored his bond with the union and farmworker communities by holding his retirement party at PCUN’s Risberg Hall in Woodburn. He remained a proud Guild member throughout this legal and judicial career.

His pursuit of justice, however, did not end with his retirement. A few years ago, Bob traveled to Dilley, Texas to do work for a week at the immigration detention center there, joining students from Lewis & Clark who Bob always supported and inspired. He also went to an international lawyers conference in Brussels sponsored by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, an organization the Guild works closely with. People were so impressed that a Court of Appeals Judge was principled enough to be willing to attend such a Leftist political meeting.

Bob was smart and principled and funny (in a dry humor kind of way) and committed to serving so many people–as a lawyer and as a judge—people who sought justice for themselves and/or to uphold justice more broadly.

We are in very good company among the many who will deeply miss Bob and who will hold him in a place of honor as a true mensch.

Bob Wollheim, ¡Presente!