The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 15 (2002-03)

In Memoriam: Ralph A. Gabric

Everyday something like this happens. Everyday, somewhere, someone loses a friend, a parent, a spouse, a son, a daughter. You can pick up any edition of the Chicago Tribune, any local newspaper, or even the ISBA Bar News and read about the passing of another soul. But until it touches your family, such an event usually goes unnoticed. On November 21, the DuPage County Bar Association family was profoundly touched by the passing of one of its own and one of its greatest, Ralph A. Gabric.

As for myself, my partner Christine Ory, everyone in our firm, and the entire community, we have lost a great friend and mentor. Chris and I would like to thank everyone who has expressed to us their condolences and we thank you for your thoughts and prayers. A man of Ralph Gabric's character can never be replaced. He can never be sufficiently honored. And he can never be forgotten.

When Ralph passed away, he passed to us all a torch that burns with the light of his spirit.

It is the light of a great lawyer. One who knew not only the value of a case, but also knew the value of resolving that case for his client as fairly and efficiently as possible. He would fight you if there were a basis, but he would always look to see if there was a rational resolution to be had. It is the light of a great mentor. Someone who would answer any question and offer any advice that was sought and never question or ridicule the person who asked. It is the light of a great leader. Someone of such magnetism, intelligence and sensitivity, that in all endeavors he undertook, those around him recognized his abilities and rallied around his leadership. It is the light of a friend. One who would offer whatever assistance he could render to a friend in a time of need, without question, criticism or critique.

In Ralph's case, the friendship he offered was returned many times over by those who loved him. It has always been my belief that one measure of the quality of an individual is to look at his friends. By that standard also, Ralph's life was blessed. The outpouring of sympathy and prayers offered by the people whose lives Ralph touched has been phenomenal. They come from clients and lawyers. They come from those who knew him intimately and from those who had only known Ralph through Bar activities. They come from recognized dignitaries and from the likes of us ordinary folks just trying to do what we can to live our lives as best we can. Indeed, people from all walks of life loved Ralph. And that is a reflection of the man he was.

I learned a lot about life in the five hours during which I attended Ralph's wake. Almost 1000 people came to pay their respects to him. And as I listened to the stories they told about how Ralph had touched their lives, I realized something obvious yet easily overlooked. Everyone respected Ralph for the big things he did; the great accomplishments he made throughout his years of practicing law. Those deeds are well documented and very impressive. But what truly made Ralph a great man were the all the small ways he influenced lives. The encouragement to get involved, the introduction of one person to another, the way he could work a room and have everyone in it feel as if they were a personal friend, a handshake, a smile, a laugh shared with others. These were the memories of Ralph that really stuck with people.

If you doubt any of what I have said here, read the testimonials to Ralph written by others in this issue. Listen to the stories told by all at the courthouse. Learn from the variety of the writers and tellers of those words. Ralph was the model of what is right about the practice of law and, even more importantly, what is right about the practice of life.

On November 21, Ralph passed the torch to us all. Please let us carry it with us every day. Please let us light the paths we journey with it. Please let us all be illuminated by its wisdom. Please let the family of the DuPage County Bar Association never let that light be extinguished.

Kevin H. Millon


I always thought I was blessed to have known Ralph Gabric for over 20 years and to have worked with him for these past10 years. However, it was not until he passed, and I heard from so many people how Ralph Gabric had affected their lives, that I have come to appreciate how truly blessed I am. Like many I heard from, I owe a lot to Ralph Gabric for where I am today. I always thought I was something special to him, which I know I was. However, the list of people who were special to Ralph is endless.

Ralph cared about people; whether it was his family, friends, employees, fellow attorneys or clients. In fact, one of the most enduring things about Ralph was how he truly cared about his clients. It didn't seem to matter to him how much fee he earned on a case, only that he did what was best for his client.

Ralph energized any place he went. He had the uncanny ability to work a room, whether he was running for office or not. He reached out to everyone to make you feel welcome. He may not have remembered your name, but he always remembered who you were.

Although I am certain I will miss him terribly in the coming years, the time I will miss him most is at Judges' Nite. His laughter in the audience was contagious. Hearing his laughter back stage got the entire cast pumped. From a personal standpoint, he encouraged me to get involved with Judges' Nite as soon as I became a lawyer. This was the best advice anyone could give a new lawyer in this county.

Most of you know he lost a lung to cancer 26 years ago. I didn't know him then and often said I couldn't image keeping up with him when he had two lungs, as I could barely keep up with him with his one! The lung cancer was only one of the medical problems Ralph struggled with throughout his life. The list included: staph infection, which complicated back and knee surgery; quintuple bypass; prostate cancer; kidney stones; several bouts of pneumonia and restrictive lung disease. Despite all of his ailments, Ralph always kept going. Ralph's son, Ralph J. Gabric, said it best as he was toasting his father at the reception following his funeral: "My father may have had nine lives, but he lived everyone of them."

Ralph often tells the story of our discussion when I was a claims adjuster going to law school at night. I had paraphrased our discussion in my speech when I was installed as DCBA president. He said, "Ory, why are you going to law school?" I responded, "well Ralph, if [guys] like you can be lawyers, so can I." The truth is, if more "guys" like Ralph Gabric were lawyers, the law could be, once again, a noble and esteemed profession.

On behalf of Ralph's family and our firm, I want to thank all of you who have been so supportive of us during this very difficult time. Your stories of Ralph Gabric are bittersweet. It was great to hear about all he had done for so many people. Unfortunately, it only underscores our loss from his passing. We all have been truly blessed to have known and loved Ralph Gabric. He will be missed.

Christine Ory


I first met Ralph Gabric in 1975, the first day I began working as an associate of Roger K O'Reilly. Our offices were at 200 E Willow in Wheaton. Ralph came barging in unannounced and proceeded to put the entire office into an uproar, talking with the secretaries, joking with the lawyers, filling the room with his electric energy.

Then, almost as quickly as he entered, he was out the door, not unlike a small tornado. I stood dazed and asked Roger, "Who was that man?" Roger laughed at me and said, "Ralph Gabric, an amazing man, a fine lawyer, and my good friend." I was so pleased when, years later, Ralph would storm though my office on Cross Street in Wheaton. He would walk quickly in, right past the reception desk, calling the secretaries by name and telling them jokes, disrupting all professional activities including interviews with clients. He would spend a few minutes in friendly conversation with the lawyers and out the door he would go, leaving the dust and furor he stirred up by his energetic presence to settle behind him. On one such occasion in late 1984, I introduced Ralph to John "Dirk" Gutzke who just started at our firm as an associate. Ralph loved the name, and thereafter wherever and whenever he saw Dirk, Ralph would call out loud and clear "DIRK", sometimes adding "I love your name".
The time came when I needed Ralph's legal services. He provided me with highly ethical, always valuable, sometimes humorous help and remained my friend as well. Eventually Ralph asked me to serve Joan and him professionally. Thereafter he often would introduce me as his lawyer. I considered it an honor. But Ralph was that kind of person, always honoring and thinking about others. He asked about you and your wife and your children and your practice, and he meant it when he asked.

He instituted the pro bono requirement for members of the DuPage County Bar when he was president because he cared about the rights and legal needs of the less fortunate citizens of the county and the law's duty to serve them. While others have become known for the ISBA initiative to protect the public from the practice of law by nonlawyers, we know it was Ralph Gabric who first raised the issue and established a committee to address the problem when he was the president of ISBA because he was concerned that the people of the state receive competent, professional representation by lawyers committed to a higher standard. Ralph firmly believed that lawyers made life better for the people; and he dedicated a major part of his public life to improving and challenging the legal profession.

He could have done it by being a judge, but he realized that his sharp, almost curt, unassuming, acerbic, irreverent, electric personality would not blend well with a black robe. So he chose to serve the public by being an unconventional, dynamic and unique leader of our profession.
Ralph's tenacious love of life and positive mental attitude is legendary. He amazed us with his almost always tasteful sense of humor in what others would consider serious situations. His irreverence, as its first director, was a keystone to the judges' night festivities. But at the same time he was being irreverent, he was one of the most loyal persons I have ever had the good fortune to know. The lawyers and the citizens of this state are the beneficiaries of the life of this special lawyer.

David Rolewick


I first met Ralph Gabric before I went to law school. Ralph was a village Trustee in Glen Ellyn, and I had been asked to present information on the federal Revenue Sharing Statute to the Village Board. I had studied the topic for the League of Women Voters of Glen Ellyn. The day before my presentation, I had injured my left foot, so I arrived on crutches. Ralph made a characteristically funny remark when I entered the boardroom.
When I joined the DuPage County Bar Association almost 10 years later, Ralph Gabric was one smiling and welcoming person on whom I could count to greet me at every meeting. Of course, I enjoyed the Judge's Nite productions, and understood that Ralph had a large role in starting that tradition. But, it was Ralph's cheerful disposition and acceptance of all attorneys into his friendship, which made him special to me.

Sarah Poeppel


Ralph Gabric loved the law, and he loved lawyers in a way that may be described as "tough love." A tireless ambassador of good will for the contributions of lawyers to the public, he was nonetheless insistent that his colleagues devote even more time to those who can least afford legal help.

It was a slam dunk for me to have had the honor of nominating Ralph for the 2002 Elbert H. Gary Award for Professional Excellence that the DuPage County Bar presented to him at the annual dinner in June. In that letter, I suggested that better than honoring him as a recipient, the DCBA might rename this tribute the Ralph Gabric Award.

It would be an understatement to say that Ralph clearly possessed the award's required characteristics of personality, leadership and professionalism. More than that, He embodied everything it stands for and everything a lawyer should be proud to emulate.

Ralph's capabilities and enthusiasm were recognized in DuPage County well before he became the Illinois State Bar Association's president * an icon of good will and encouragement of public service among lawyers throughout the state.

He was president of the DCBA in 1981-82 and Man of the Year in 1979. He initiated the mandatory pro bono program and helped incorporate the DuPage Legal Aid Foundation. He ably represented the interests of the DuPage County Bar on the ISBA Assembly for 18 years (1980-98), and on the Board of Governors for nine years.

During his term as ISBA president, he visited almost every bar association in Illinois, advocating pro bono service, community involvement and charitable initiatives. He was a Life Stalwart Fellow of the Illinois Bar Foundation and recipient of its Fellows Award for Distinguished Service to Law and Society in 1999.

Ralph's other bar-related and community activities are well known. He was especially proud to serve on the board of the Wellness House, helping cancer victims and their families to find peace with a malady that was just one of many health problems he had faced.

Ralph Gabric dealt with physical adversity almost all of his professional life, but he never lost the ability to smile through the discomfort and enthuse everyone around him with boundless energy, humor and love. He was one of a kind, and we have been blessed with his presence.

Stephen Anderson


Heart. Webster's Collegiate dictionary defines heart as a hollow muscular organ of vertebrate animals that by its rhythmic contraction acts as a force pump maintaining the circulation of the blood.. Webster also defines heart as compassion, love, courage, one's innermost character, feelings, the essential or most vital part of something-at this point, Ralph would have interrupted me and said, "come on, Golden, cut the crap. What are you trying to say." Well, Ralph, what I'm trying to say is ...Ralph would interrupt, "come on, get on with it." Alright, Ralph, I will. Ralph Gabric was a giant of a man with an even larger heart. Ralph would say to me, "Wait a minute, Golden. I was just doing the best I could with what I had." Oh, but Ralph, your best was better than best and what you had was priceless. "What was that?", Ralph would way. Ralph, don't you know? "Know what?", he would say. Ralph, you were so busy helping other people, extending a kind hand and a loving word to the people that came your way, helping people when they were down and out, your best was a beautiful thing. "You think so? Ah, come on. Cut out this sappy stuff. I was just doing what we all try to do- the right thing." Perhaps you're right, Ralph. But your "right thing" moved more than mountains. You see, Ralph, your "right thing" moved our hearts.

To list Ralph's accomplishments and relationship with the ISBA would take forever. At this point, Ralph would interrupt, "But a lot of people were active in bar activities. Why am I so special?" Because, Ralph, you did it with such a compassion for lawyers everywhere, with such a loving and understanding heart. "Me, really?" Yes, Ralph, you.

Ralph, remember the cruise we took last year from Lisbon to Barcelona? "Yeah!" Ralph would say excitedly. Of course, everything Ralph said was excitedly. But then on the cruise, you started to not feel well, you got sick. Remember, Ralph? "Yeah," Ralph would say, "that was a bummer." And remember, Ralph, when they escorted you down the ramp off of the cruise ship on to a launch to take you to that God awful hospital in Gibraltar, remember what you did while you were wearing that oxygen mask on your face at midnight with the shadow of the rock of Gibraltar in the back ground, (you always found a way to inject insurance into a situation), remember what you did when I called out to you from the rail. "What did I do?" Ralph would ask. You gave me the thumbs up sign. Not to worry. Everything will be all right. Even then you were thinking about other people and not yourself. Ralph at this point would say, "Golden, you play a pretty mean piano, but you talk far too much.

re you done now?" Yes, Ralph, except for this. Webster's Dictionary should add a definition of heart-it should say, see Ralph Gabric.. And Ralph, we will, we always will.

Eulogy by Loren Golden


Ralph Gabric embodied everything that is right about being a lawyer. I've had the honor of being his friend for over thirty years.
Some lawyers have taught me how to take from the legal profession. Ralph taught me how to give back. For that I will be forever grateful.

Jack Donahue


The legal community lost a true friend with the passing of Ralph Gabric. Ralph touched so many of us. Anyone with even minimal contact with Bar activities knew him. He was always easy to spot, with a ready smile, a sideways walk, and a hearty laugh. And if your practice didn't personally bring you across Ralph's path, well, you could almost follow his daily activities by referring to Steve Anderson's photos in the Bar News. Ralph was one of our profession's greatest ambassadors.

I worked with Ralph at many Bar activities. Looking back on it, I was almost a "stalker". I followed Ralph through the DuPage Bar Association offices and to the ISBA Board of Governors. Ralph opened many doors for me. And, for that, I will be forever thankful.

Somewhere in this newsletter, the editors will list Ralph's accomplishments and awards. But Ralph wasn't about biographies. That was history. Ralph was into now. He was doing. He was going. He was meeting. He was planning. The guy never sat down! And the public and our profession both became the beneficiaries of his indefatigable energy and good will.

Rest in peace, Ralph. You've earned it.

Judge Patrick J. Leston


I think it is a wonderful idea and a fitting tribute to Ralph Gabric that the DuPage Bar Brief have decided to prepare an In Memoriam Article concerning him. Ralph's recent passing was not only a sad event for his family and friends, but was also a tremendous loss to the DuPage County Bar Association and the lawyers' profession. Ralph represented the best in what attorneys should be, that is competent, collegial and a model of civility. I remember more that 20 years ago when I was a brand new attorney, working for a small general practice law firm here in DuPage County, and known by almost no one. Our firm had a modest workers compensation practice, and I was assigned to handle many of those cases. I vividly recall my appearing at the Industrial Commission at the 421 County Farm Building for those monthly workers comp calls and not knowing any one or fully understanding the local customs as they related to that practice. For reasons that I really never understood but for which I was eternally grateful, Ralph took a liking to me and was gracious in sharing his considerable knowledge and expertise. In addition, he walked me around and introduced me to all of the attorneys who represented the insurance companies, and told them that I was a friend of his and that they should "treat me right". I came to understand that that meant they should not take advantage of my relative inexperience and to treat me and my clients the same way they would treat Ralph and his clients.

There was no reason for Ralph to do that for a new young attorney except for the fact that in his mind that was what the practice of law was all about and it was simply the right thing to do. I have always been grateful to Ralph for that and over the course of the years, Ralph was always supportive of me, my practice, later my efforts to become a judge, and most recently, of my career on the bench. I, like so many others, owe an enormous debt to Ralph, which I was never able to completely repay, but I made every effort by returning the friendship that he so kindly gave to me and to try to be like him. This is a sad time for Ralph's family and his friends, but if we as the legal community can simply remember and emulate the way Ralph practiced law and the way he interacted with his colleagues, he will never be forgotten. We owe that to him and to our profession. Thank you for this opportunity to share and I remain,

Judge C. Stanley Austin


The first and most compelling impression Ralph made, not only with me but all who knew him, was that infectious smile. He always radiated good humor and goodwill.

I first met Ralph fifty-five years ago on a football field where he, a senior and I, a freshman, as well as 60 other aspiring athletes, were being driven like wild cattle by our nemesis, Coach John Boyle on the Calumet High School Football Team. Ralph always had quiet, witty retorts to comments made by the Coach which at least made life a bit more tolerable in 95 degree heat carrying ful football gear.

In 1968, I once again had the pleasure of seeing his smiling face at the old courthouse in Wheaton when we recognized each other, a little bit older, minus football pads, and naturally reminisced about the "glory days".

Since that time, we have traveled together to far distant shores, drank some fine wines and laughed a great deal, and those are the memories I shall treasure.

Ralph's commitment to the organized Bar surpasses that of anyone else in my memory. He gave of himself freely and frequently. Anyone who needed help in the profession found him to be a willing and patient confidante. Ralph served because he believed in the law, the profession and us. He believed we, as lawyers, could assist in the change of society for the better and he, personally, was able to do just that.

We are all better for having known him.

George P. Lynch


"Joey", he said, in his loud and happy voice, "We've beaten all this medical crap - - we're two old cockroaches. They can't get rid of us."
The "sideways man" (I've called him that over the years because when Ralph walked, one shoulder seemed to be out front while the other lagged behind, sort of crab-like) was correct. Though he finally succumbed to all of his serious medical problems, Ralph survives.

Nobody possessed the spirit, the joie de vivre, the eternal goodwill like "Ralphy". He was our good buddy to those of us who have been around since the 60's; a mentor for those younger in the profession.

Ralph was/is DuPage County's eternal flame. There was nobody ever like him, nor will there be in the future from my standpoint. Always quick to pick up a tab, to laugh at any old joke no matter how bad, yet forever conduct himself as a complete gentleman at all times.

Ralph was devoted to his family and friends, his bar associations and a benefactor of so many organizations as well as people.

Ralphy, "You're the best!" doesn't adequately sum up your time with us. Your legacy will be enduring. I feel sorry for those younger people who have not and will not ever know Ralph Gabric.

I feel blessed by having been your friend.

Joseph F. Mirabella


At the suggestion of President Donald J. Ramsell, I would like to make a few comments about my good friend, Ralph Gabric, whose recent untimely death was a shock to all of those who knew and loved him.

My earliest remembrance of Ralph was when I was a member of the Village Board of Glen Ellyn, 21 years ago. Ralph would come before the Board regarding various legal matters, particularly in representing the developer of the Maryknoll property in Glen Ellyn. Whenever certain work had not been accomplished, according to schedule, and the bond was in danger of being called on Ralph's client, he would come again and again before the Village Board to plead for an extension of time. He was very difficult to turn down, and his contagious smile and capable representation would win the day every time.

I would also, over the years, send Ralph clients who had worker's compensation claims. They would always be most impressed with his concern, personal interest, and blunt candor in assessing the claim. He would always promptly return a phone call, or have someone do so on his behalf, and act with utmost courtesy and civility, unlike many lawyers today. His enthusiasm was infectious. Ralph was always interested in getting to know those persons with whom he came in contact.

When I filed, for the first and last time, for a position as Associate Judge a few years ago, Ralph Gabric was one of my prestigious references. He told my wife, Kaaren, and me, that I was the only lawyer out of those in the running for Associate Judge, for whom he would write a recommendation at that particular time. I will always be grateful for that act of kindness, and for his friendship to me and my family over the years. As for being a part of the judiciary, Ralph turned down the opportunity to become an Associate Judge several years ago, saying that it would be "too boring." His perception was accurate, and the judiciary's loss was the gain of all who came into contact with him, especially his clients and fellow lawyers.

In closing, Ralph Gabric was a lawyer's lawyer, and a true friend, who always stood up for the rights of poor, the weak, the defenseless, and the downtrodden. He always was willing to lend an understanding ear and give a helping hand to his peers. The world will be a better place because of the legacy of Ralph Gabric.

E. Lawrence Oldfield


My personal remembrances and accolades of Ralph Gabric could fill the entire set of pages for this magazine and more! But in an attempt for brevity, as others have similar feelings, I would state that in my opinion there is not an attorney practicing law within DuPage County that has not either directly or indirectly been touched by the competence, professionalism, guidance and leadership of Ralph Gabric. From a personal point of view, since I became licensed to practice law in April of 1977, I have consulted with Ralph Gabric on every professional decision made throughout my more than 25 years in the practice of law and serving on the Bench. I not only sought Ralph's advice, guidance and counsel, I relied on everything he ever helped me with and told to me. I look back at each of those decisions that I made and I am thankful that I had someone of the quality of Ralph Gabric, who was there for me, and willing to provide the time and effort that he had no obligation to provide. His relationship with my father, Charley, was one of such closeness that almost led to them working together when Ralph first made the decision to come out to DuPage County. That personal and professional relationship continued between my father and Ralph and I learned so very much from just watching their interaction, listening to their dialogues, and following through with my observations of them.

There will not be another Ralph Gabric. But certainly, each and every one of us that were so dearly touched by this man, should do whatever we can to "pickup the baton" that Ralph has handed off to us with his death, and to run with that baton throughout each of our professional careers in thankful memory and honor to Ralph Gabric, the man, the lawyer and the leader.

Judge Kenneth L. Popejoy


Ralph Gabric was the director of the first Judges' Nite show I appeared in. That was over twenty years ago, and I hardly knew anybody in DuPage then, and nobody knew me. But Ralph was the leader of a happy bunch of people, and I was made to feel welcome in his orbit. As some of us offered a song or a skit for the show, I swear I never heard or saw anyone laugh so hard, so long, so loud, or so heartily as Ralph. He would beam at you, embrace you as his child, and smother you with compliments. No doubt I had been encouraged by my elders in the past, but Ralph took encouragement to new levels! He made me feel like the Rookie of the Year. Other people certainly were polite and nice and welcoming, but Ralph always had the volume on those qualities turned way, way up. He loved lawyers, and showed it every day of his life.

Ralph had a way of just looking at you that made you feel like a million bucks. You'd see Ralph, he would read your face and know you had a joke to tell, and Ralph's face would morph into an expression of gleeful anticipation, which he held until the punch line. And when the Gabric laugh started, it was a sheer explosion of joy. Ralph Gabric was the greatest audience that ever lived, and the first rule of any Judges' Nite has always been: Put Gabric in the front row.

Some people have said they wished they had let Ralph know how much he meant to them. I think we all did. When Ralph entered a room, people naturally gravitated to him, because he was so much fun to be with. He showed his enthusiastic love for us in every conversation and passing greeting, however brief. And while he was consciously sending out these signals to us, he was receiving them back a thousandfold. Ralph was perceptive, and he knew very well, without our having to spell it out, that we, the lawyers of DuPage County, loved him as our own.

Jim Reichardt


Ralph was a unique and wonderful man who was an icon in his professional and personal life. He possessed those qualities most respected in a truly fine man. His passing is a great loss to his family, friends and the members of our profession.

Ralph touched all of our lives and hearts in a very special way. He will be sorely missed.

Joseph M. Laraia


As Joe Laraia said in his eulogy, Ralph deserves his own highest praise - "He was a beautiful man."

Judge Stephen J. Culliton


PEOPLE! PEOPLE! I will always remember Ralph Gabric's voice trying to get the attention of the Judges' Night cast to start rehearsal. This would immediately be followed by the cast of 30 or 40 simultaneously replying in a mimicking fashion, "PEEEE POL! PEEEE POL!" Ralph was the director of early Judges' Night shows, and he never showed any irritation at the nightly teasing, which evolved into somewhat of a ritual. In fact, I believe he actually enjoyed it. The Judges' Night cast, in those days, was a particularly fun-loving, unruly group; and Ralph's enthusiasm and patience set the tone for those shows as well as all those that followed. The rehearsals were as much fun, if not more so, than the performances and were rewarding in other ways. Younger lawyers gained confidence and recognition through associating with more experienced attorneys. Professional associations and lifetime friendships were formed among cast members. All of this was set against a backdrop of organized chaos and endless laughter. At the center of all of this was Ralfie, patiently trying to get us to learn lines, say them so they could be understood and even trying to convince some of us that we could sing. (Even though he knew we didn't have the faintest idea of the melody!) Ralph Gabric has made many significant contributions to this bar and the quality of the practice of law. But the essence of his personality, to me, is and will forever be embodied in Judges' Night.

Judge Jack Darrah

DCBA Brief