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GIBSON Judge JOHN R. GIBSON A legacy of fairness and integrity Judge John R. Gibson passed away in Reading, Massachusetts on April 19, 2014 at the age of 88. His distinguished life began on December 20, 1925 in Springfield, Missouri. The final thirty years of his career were spent as a federal judge, most of those years on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he was known for his integrity and his fairness. His early life was shaped by his two grandmothers, one instilled a love of reading and the other's delicious chocolate cakes inspired his life long love of chocolate. Just after his 18th birthday "John R" as he is often known, left Springfield to serve in the United States Army as Staff Sergeant with the Medical Detachment of the 693rd Quartermaster Battalion from 1944-1946. His unit served in Europe and the Philippines during World War II and in Japan after the war for occupation services. He was decorated with ribbons for his participation in two theaters of operations. He returned to Missouri and received his Bachelors Degree in Economics, Phi Beta Kappa in 1949 and his law degree in 1952, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In 1952 he married Mary Elizabeth Vaughn (who died in 1985) and moved to Kansas City. They designed their first home in south Kansas City reflecting their fondness for modern art and architecture. He joined Morrison, Hecker, Curtis, Kuder & Parrish as an associate, made partner in 1957 and worked there for 29 years engaged primarily in trial and appellate work. While in private practice Judge Gibson served as President of both the Kansas City Bar Association and the Missouri Bar and served as Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Jackson County Charter Commission. In 1973, he was appointed by the governor of Missouri to Kansas City's Board of Police Commissioners, serving until 1977. Judge Gibson was appointed as U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Missouri in 1981. Six months after his appointment in 1982, he was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. As a jurist, he was respected by and worked effectively with his colleagues of all political backgrounds. He told a news reporter in 1982, "Each case has to be viewed on the basis of its own set of facts. Using labels (like liberal or conservative) might make great stories, but they don't make good law." He contributed greatly to the welfare and jurisprudence of the Eighth Circuit involved with hundreds of cases covering a wide range of issues. One notable case involved the T. Rex dinosaur named "Sue". He helped desegregate the Kansas City, MO school system. He authored the en banc opinion that a Minnesota statute requiring underaged women to notify parents 48 hours before having an abortion was constitutional because it provided a procedure for the minor to see a court waiver of the requirement. He dissented against lifting limits on campaign contributions in Missouri, writing that free speech rights of political parties are not more important than those of individuals. He was a compassionate man, energized by hard work, driven in his quest for excellence and devoted to the Constitution. He had unfailing good humor, a zest for life and pursued a variety of passions over the years. He and Mary Liz took up scuba diving in the 1960's and spent years chasing fish, which he documented in many great photographs. On weekend days, he often rode his bike for 25 miles until his early 80's and three times travelled to experience and photograph the Tour de France in person. He was frequently spotted riding around town in his red Alfa with the top down even on chilly winter days. He was known as "the dining judge", he always appreciated a good meal, savored every bite, starting with a glass of wine and ending with a bowl of chocolate ice cream. Judge Gibson retired in January 2011 at the age of 85 and moved to Massachusetts to be close to his daughter Jeanne and her family. He found a new bookstore and spent hours continuing his lifelong love of reading in his modern chairs. He enjoyed many walks with his family in the mild New England summers and greeted each winter snowstorm with excitement as the tall pines outside his window became coated in white. He never passed up a bowl of chocolate ice cream. While living in Massachusetts he remained loyal to his favorite football team, the Missouri Tigers. Judge Gibson's family includes his daughter Jeanne Gibson Sullivan, her husband Bill Sullivan and their sons Connor and Luke of Reading, MA; his son Robert Gibson; his brother Harry and his wife Jane of Denver, CO; his stepdaughter Holly Larrison Mills, her husband Will Mills and her son Sam Babler of Liberty, MO; and his stepdaughter Catherine Larrison of Kansas City, MO. He also counts the judges with whom he served as family, as well as the 61 clerks who worked for him, his staff members and the court staff. There will be a memorial service in Kansas City, MO at the John Knox Kirk, 11430 Wornall Road, Kansas City, MO on Friday, May 9 at 10:30 a.m. Judge Gibson was one of the charter members of the Kirk. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a special session of the court in his honor in the fall. Memorial gifts can be made to The Judge John R. Gibson Fund at the University of Missouri-Columbia Law School Foundation, 205 Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.Memorial gifts can be made to The Judge John R. Gibson Fund at the University of Missouri-Columbia Law School Foundation, 205 Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.
Published in The Washington Post on Apr. 23, 2014