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Bar News - June 18, 2010

Bob Battles: a Man of Infinite Knowledge and Interests

Robert Battles
Robert Allen Battles, a partner at Donahue, Tucker & Ciandella, died on March 24, 2010. Bar News published his obituary in its April 16 issue. The following is the eulogy delivered by Rob Ciandella on behalf of the firm at a service at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dover on March 27, held in thanksgiving for the life of Bob Battles.

There is a popular belief that you can fit the life experience of a lawyer into a thimble, that lawyers make their living by pushing around punctuation points and not much more. There are a lot of lawyers here who would dispute that notion but the best evidence that this common belief is not true was Bob Battles.

Bob Battles overflowed with life experience.

In our firm, if there was a dispute on any common, practical, historical or esoteric matter, you went to Bob for an answer. This faith in Bob’s experience went well beyond logic. If there was an argument about the Omaha Beach landing at Normandy, you went to Bob with the idea that one way or another he would know, as if he had been there. If there were questions about whether the Vikings reached North America in the 10th century, Bob would know, as if he had been there.

For us, Bob was a combination Zelig, General Patton and Forest Gump. No one in our firm had a fuller, wider range of life experiences. With this reservoir of life experience, Bob combined:
  • An active pursuit of many passionate interests;
  • A kind and generous nature;
  • A graceful, easy, affable charm; and
  • Know-how.
The Bob stories in our firm illustrating these qualities are legion. When John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s plane went down, I ran into Bob at the office and must have said something about how I didn’t understand what had happened. And this is the way Bob was – he said: “Come with me; I will show you what happened.” He took me into his office. Bob’s desk had one of those glass tops and under the glass top was a photo of a cockpit and control panel. Of course, Bob was a pilot and of course Bob had owned the exact plane John F. Kennedy, Jr., had gone down in.

These were not coincidences. That was Bob. And Bob proceeded to show me – using the cockpit control panel photo – exactly what the difference is between instrument flying and visual flying and what happens when you mix the two. And I understood what had happened to John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Bob worked out of our Portsmouth office and his custom in the morning or late afternoon, or sometimes both, was to position himself so he could be seen by everyone in the office and hold court. One day he would explain how the chickens he was raising were doing, how he was reconstructing the coop and out-thinking the foxes. Bob was proud of his chickens. He brought eggs into the office all the time.

Another day he would explain in painstaking detail, ingredient-by-ingredient, what he was cooking that night and what wine he would be drinking with that meal. Because of course, Bob was a gourmet cook and a wine aficionado.

In summer, Bob would report his sailing plans because, of course, Bob owned a sail boat and was an accomplished sailor.

In spring, he would announce when he would be skiing Tuckerman Ravine because Bob was an expert on skis.

On other days, Bob would explain what music he would be performing at his next concert; he played violin with the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra.

And most days, and with the greatest relish, he would talk about his children. Bob would explain how he was teaching violin to his daughter Abigail by practicing with her each morning and he would describe what project he planned to do next with Abigail and what great adventure he would next undertake with his sons because he and his sons had many great adventures.

One partner in our firm used Bob as a home-cooking consultant. She said one time Bob gave her instructions for cooking beef burgundy that were incredibly complex, 15 dizzying steps, as if she were building the space shuttle. Bob ended his instructions by telling her to soak the whole dish in brandy and set it on fire. So she decided to order take-out rather than risk burning down her house.

Another partner told of the time Bob was skiing Tuckerman and an avalanche swept passed him. Bob saw another skier had been flipped by the avalanche and was planted head first in the snow, skis up. Bob rescued the person (a woman) as if he were some kind of New Hampshire James Bond.

Bob was the closest thing we had in our firm to Michael Clayton. Those of you who have seen the movie will know what I mean. Bob knew how to get things done and beard or no beard, we could tell Bob in his heart thought he was better looking than George Clooney.

We knew Bob first as a client. He was chairman of a board of selectmen and chairman of a planning board. He was a leader on those boards. Those same skills and qualities made him an effective advocate for clients in a variety of contexts.

A few weeks ago we had a single malt scotch tasting at my house. And Bob of course knew his scotch: while others remarked about the differences in taste, Bob would explain in great detail how the soil characteristics of the different parts of Scotland and the different production techniques in the distilleries accounted for those different tastes.

My wife made paella for the scotch tasting. It was the first time she had made the dish and she wanted to do it right because she knew Bob would be there and Bob would know how paella should be prepared.

And it turns out that paella is supposed to have a crust at the bottom of the dish and it did not happen. At the end of the night, my wife mentioned to Bob that she was disappointed that the bottom crust had not come out right. Bob said: “That’s okay. No one knows it’s supposed to be like that except you and me.”

Finally, Bob learned to raise his chickens from a young neighbor in Madbury, a farmer. And it came to pass that Bob and the young farmer who had taught Bob each entered a hen in the Rochester county fair in competition for a prize hen. And of course, Bob won.

Bob felt bad. He was embarrassed that he had won over the young farmer who had taught him but he turned his winning around and made it a testament to what a great teacher the young farmer was.

That was Bob. All this and much, much more was Bob.

We will miss him.

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