Edward (Ed) M. Wontor, 89, passed away at his home in Sun Lakes, Ariz., on Feb. 27, 2017. Wontor worked as a court reporter in the 4th Judicial District Court in Montana for 35 years until his retirement.
An obituary for retired NCRA member Jonathan D. “Rus” Weathers was posted on March 16 by PalmBeachPost.com. Weathers, a former firm owner, was active in the Florida Court Reporters Association.
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., reported on Feb. 4 that NCRA member Virginia Lee Klapheke passed away. Klapheke was instrumental in reactivating the Kentucky Shorthand Reporters Association and served as its president.
Longtime member Jerry Kelley, RPR, CRR (Ret.), passed away earlier this week, according to family members. Kelley was an early advocate of realtime and served on several committees for NCRA, most notably its Technology Evaluation Committee. Kelley received NCRA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2012.
The memorial service was Saturday, Jan. 7, at 11 a.m. at North Community Baptist Church in McKinney, Texas. In lieu of flowers, the family suggested donations to Meals on Wheels of Collin County or the Samaritan Inn of Collin County. Kelley was very active with both organizations since his retirement.
Retired court reporter and former NCRA member Eugenie Harris Fitzhugh, RPR, Plymouth, Mass., passed away Dec. 29, according to an obituary posted by iBershires.com. A past president of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association, Fitzhugh was 91 years old.
The Cape Cod Times reported on Dec. 27 that NCRA member Paula Ershler Hogan, a freelance reporter from Harwich, Mass., passed away on Dec. 21.
On Dec. 24, the Las Vegas Review posted an article announcing the passing of NCRA member Eric Nelson, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Reno. Nelson served as the court reporter for the state’s Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission for four decades.
The article about Nelson is included after the piece on the Consumer Electronics Show, farther down the page.
With Ray DeSimone’s passing, I have lost a dear friend personally, and the loss is also to the court reporting profession at large. When I visited Ray at a hospice care center in Boca Raton, Fla., Linda, his wife, met me up front to prepare me for what to expect. As I entered his private room, the TV was on and his eyes were closed. I sat by his bed and identified myself and his eyes slowly opened. He grabbed my arm and, in a very low voice, said, “Did you sell your North Carolina house?” It amazed me that in his condition he was able to think of me first. That’s the type of selfless person he was.
Ray has been a very good friend and mentor to me, like a brother, and close to so many of us in the court reporting profession. To many who knew him, and for those of the younger generation who should know, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Raymond F. DeSimone. In 1984-1985, as president of our national association, then known as the National Shorthand Reporters Association, he spearheaded a progressive movement to hire one of the world’s most prestigious public relations firms in Hill and Knowlton to represent us, thus elevating our reputation in the eyes of the legal and business world.
Ray and I met in 1973, at a time when the court reporting profession was under siege by the proponents of sound recording. By coincidence, we shared similar missions that year: In Washington, D.C., Ray was sent by NSRA to speak at the State Trial Court Judges conference, and I, by an attorney committee member, went to the American Bar Association. We shared a hotel suite, where we had two IBM Selectric typewriters, paper, Scotch tape, pens, yellow highlighters, and a stapler. We prepared our speeches together — literally cut and paste with paper and scissors — and refined our respective presentations. Today our work would have been accomplished in a snap. With another two former NCRA presidents, the beloved Irving Kosky and the ever-charming country bumpkin from Tennessee, Richard Smith, we were able to stave off those in the courts who would, early on, recommend replacement of the reporter’s role in the courtroom by electronic recording devices.
Ray was one of the most intelligent individuals I knew. He had the ability to forecast trends, enabling our profession to stay on the forefront of its place in the legal and business communities. He revolutionized our profession. The Raymond F. DeSimone Pro Bono Program was named after him. In his words, “America was founded on the principles of equal justice for all and of legal redress for grievances. But there can be no justice for the poor without access to the courts and legal help.”
Together with an investment group, he helped create what has grown to become the largest court reporting firm in the world: Veritext Court Reporting/Legal Solutions.
I could go on with accolade after accolade, but I would like to share some quotes from just a few friends as to how Ray was regarded:
Woody Waga, RMR, CRR (Ret.), past NCRA President: “And now to our friend Raymond: He did so much for a profession that assisted challenged individuals to be winners with a paucity of education. That includes some of you and yours truly.”
Marty Block, RPR (Ret.), past NCRA President: “I have read Allen and Woody’s news with great sadness. It brings to the forefront of one’s mind the realization that even the mightiest of oaks must age and eventually fall; and for me Ray remains indeed the mightiest of all oaks among those in our profession. We are all aware that it would take many volumes to write the history of the contributions of Raymond DeSimone to the reporting profession and NCRA.”
Tom Runfola, RMR (Ret.), past NCRA President: “Ray’s greatness, leadership, friendship, and inspiration will live on in the minds and hearts of all who knew and loved him. I am satisfied to hear these recollections from his friends, to honor a man of greatness among us who we knew and loved, and to remember with fondness his strength, his leadership, his articulate speech, his depth and intellect, his humor and humanity.”
Jay Suddreth, CPE (Ret.), past NCRA President: “He was a visionary leader way ahead of his time and underappreciated by many of his peers. Like many of you, I had the pleasure of working side by side with Ray on the Board when he served as President of NCRA. Ray’s foresight in establishing the courtroom of the future and seeing it to its completion is but one of many of the accomplishments achieved during his presidency.”
On a personal level, our friendship was always full of interesting point-counterpoint chats — I mentioned he was the most intelligent member of NCRA — often enjoying bantering together regarding politics, and always with a sense of humor and warm affection.
One special memorable moment, at the end of an NCRA Hawaii convention, took us to a cottage I rented at Hana Bay Villas. I remember renting a red Mustang convertible; with the road to Hana being a single lane accommodating two-way traffic, it was treacherous. Ray liked to say, “Geez, with Allen driving and hugging the road on those 300-foot high cliffs and turns, I could pick the flowers off the mountainside, we were so close.” We cooked a genuine Italian dinner, drank Chianti, and watched black and white old film noir movies on AMC [his favorite] via satellite dish until 4 in the morning. Our bond was solid.
Using a much deserved time-worn cliché, Raymond F. DeSimone was literally a legend in his own time, to be remembered also by our current generation of court reporters as to whom they, and we, owe a debt of gratitude.
Allen Benowitz, RMR (Ret.)
The GazetteXtra reported on Nov. 11 that retired NCRA member Robert E. Harrington, RPR, passed away Nov. 9 in Elkhorn, Wis. Harrington worked as an official court reporter for more than 30 years in both Wisconsin and Florida.