As described in the history/bio section of my web site http://www.litigateforjustice.com/ I have been blessed to know and work with a number of really special people. While I was in law school, Bill Walton and I were neighbors in San Diego, and to this day, we are still good friends. Bill introduced me to Lawrence “Ramrod” Shurtliff, the legendary chief Roadie, and President of the Grateful Dead organization. Ramrod was really the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead.
In 1978, during a dinner at Bill’s house, I described to members of the Grateful Dead, including Jerry Garcia, Bobby Weir, Mickey Hart, and Ramrod, how impacted California public school music programs would become due to budget cuts connected to Proposition 13. A few days later, unsolicited, an envelope came for me from the Grateful Dead office with a note from Ramrod. He wrote,” ….Everyone was touched by what you spoke about the other night, let’s do something about it…”. To my amazement, there was also a check for $10,000.00 in the envelope. When I called Ramrod to ask about the check, he simply said, “There is a problem, go fix it.” I was a young law student. I now suddenly had a client, a problem, and a way to address the problem. I had my marching orders from the Grateful Dead, and a check from the Rex Foundation, the Grateful Dead’s charitable arm. Over the next few weeks, I was able to coordinate the purchase and distribution of hundreds of musical instruments which were distributed to public schools.
This episode began my friendship with Ramrod, which lasted over twenty five years until his death. At one point in our friendship, after I had already been practicing law for about twenty years, Ramrod asked me to prepare trust and estate documents (i.e., wills and trust) for him and his wife Frances. Since that is not an area of the law that is my specialty, I referred the matter to a colleague of mine. Ramrod asked me to attend the meeting with the estate planning lawyer. When the lawyer asked Ramrod who he wanted to serve as executor of his and his wife Frances’ estate, I was surprised and honored that I was asked to serve.
As these things often happen, just several months after preparing his estate plan, sadly, my good friend Ramrod was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. A number of colleagues and friends were summoned to the Northern California Hospital. There, in the lounge, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Steve Parrish (another legendary roadie of the Dead), Bill Walton and I gathered to hear the very bad prognosis from the physician. As the doctor told us about the various conditions and their consequences to our friend’s prognosis, I could not help but think about the lyric from the Grateful Dead song “The Wheel” that Mickey Hart, Bobbie Weir and Jerry Garcia had sung thousands of times. As the doctor continued his descriptions about the cancer and its ravages on various organs of the body, I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics from “The Wheel,” “…If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will…”
Ramrod passed within a few days of that meeting.
I miss Ramrod and his wife Frances. They were the embodiment of the values of friendship, kindness, compassion and consciousness that were part of the Grateful Dead scene. Ramrod was fearless and straight up.
I sometimes think of the lyrics of “The Wheel” during my legal practice. My clients often come to me during a “thunder and lightning” storm of their lives. Sometimes, the thunder or lightning has already stricken them (i.e., they have been hurt, injured, ripped off, fired, or victimized). In cases like that, I try to bring them back to where they were before the storm. Sometimes, clients come to me during a storm, and I help them navigate their way through the thunder and lightning.
Sometimes as a lawyer, it is important to remember as well, the incredible mystery and consciousness of our universe. The lyrics of “The Wheel” help.