Whenever Lauraine Jaeger wanted to track down her husband at a crowded cocktail party, all she had to do was follow the sound of laughter. That’s where Richard Jaeger would be, making his friends delirious with that razor-sharp wit.
A keen sense of humor was one of Jaeger’s many likeable qualities. As a lawyer, father, husband and Jewish community leader, Jaeger embodied what his wife called “absolute integrity, honesty, fairness and outstanding judgment. I always thought of him as the last of the just.”
Richard Jaeger died in San Francisco on Monday, April 23, of cancer. He was 71.
In legal circles, Jaeger was an accomplished litigator and, later in life, an arbitration/mediation lawyer. Although he took on complex securities, business, real estate and employment cases, he savored advocating for the disabled and disenfranchised, especially arguing pro bono habeas corpus, asylum and discrimination claims.
A Berkeley resident, Jaeger was highly active in the Jewish community, serving on the boards of Jewish Vocational Services, the Hebrew Free Loan Association and the American Jewish Committee. He also served as AJCommittee president and chapter leader.
“Rick brought a remarkable combination of insights to his leadership roles,” said AJCommittee Executive Director Ernest Wiener. “He was a first-rate analyst of the political scene and had a special interest in dealing with other religious communities.”
That interest spurred him to create the Catholic/Jewish Educational Enrichment Program (C/JEEP), an AJCommittee program that brought Jewish clergy into Catholic schools and Catholic clergy into Jewish schools. “He felt there had to be an effort to bring younger members of the Catholic community into full awareness of Judaism and the history of the Jews,” Wiener added.
Growing up in a Conservative home in Cincinnati, Jaeger was steeped in Jewish life. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a law degree from Boalt Hall at U.C. Berkeley, where he was editor of the Law Review.
He launched his legal career in Los Angeles, working for the firm of O’Melveny and Myers. He had two children with his first wife. After a divorce, Jaeger relocated to Washington, D.C., then the Bay Area.
The distance didn’t diminish his involvement with his children. “My mom moved to Eureka when we were young,” recalled daughter Nicole Jaeger. “Through it all, he would come see us every other weekend and every vacation. He didn’t miss an event, he didn’t miss a game. He worked to be in our lives. A lot of dads could have checked out, but he didn’t.”
Jaeger later married Lauraine, whom he met on a blind date. They enjoyed 21 happy years together. “He had an extremely easy, warm manner,” remembered Lauraine Jaeger. “His intelligence shined out. I called him super mensch the first time I saw him. He turned out to be that.”
Jaeger brought those qualities to his work, especially pro bono cases. “When he saw someone suffering, he knew he could put his legal shoulder to the wheel,” Lauraine Jaeger added.
An opponent of the death penalty, he was successful in reducing a death row inmate’s sentence to life. Even as illness began to overtake him, he continued working. Just last month, from his hospital bed, he won a pro bono asylum case — his last — for a Chinese immigrant. “I did one of these cases in law school, and they are hard to win,” said his daughter, an attorney in Los Angeles. “He did it. That was the kind of work he loved.”
“He was so courageous,” added his wife. “Rick knew he was going. So he came to peace with it, and was absolutely himself before he died. He was joking hours before. He woke up from a nap and said, ‘Am I still here? Let’s go out to dinner.'”
Speaking for Jaeger’s family and friends, Nicole Jaeger said her father will be sorely missed. “More than anything,” she noted, “he had extremely good judgment. He always did the right thing.”
In addition to his wife, Lauraine, and daughter Nicole, Richard Jaeger is survived by his son, Stephen Jaeger of Kentfield; stepchildren Paul Braunstein of Kentfield, Lisa Kingstone of West Hartford, Conn., and Karina Khalisa of Brooklyn, N.Y.; three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren; and his brother, Irving Jaeger of Los Angeles. Donations may be made to the C/JEEP program at the American Jewish Committee, 121 Steuart Street, Suite 405, San Francisco, CA 94105 and Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley.