To the Honorable, the Judges of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.
The report of the Committee appointed to draft a memorial upon the death of the late Robert B. Peter, former Associate Judge of the sixth Judicial Circuit of Maryland, respectfully submits the following:
In approaching the attempt to pen our tribute of respect to his memory, we realize fully our words will be inadequate to describe the admiration and affection held for Judge Peter by the people of Frederick and Montgomery Counties and the Bench and Bar of the entire State of Maryland. He was the personification of justice. His knowledge of legal principles was thorough and sound; his judgment impartial and safe; his temperament conservative and judicial.
He was born at Rockville, Maryland, on the twenty-second day of February, 1868, being one of nine children of the late George Peter and Lavinia Kassawy Peter. He received his early education at the Rockville Academy and Hampden-Sydney College and at the youthful age of seventeen departed to the wilds of South Dakota to teach in the Indian Schools. Returning to his native County he married Helen O. Lowry, the youngest daughter of the late Major H. B. Lowry of the United States Marine Corps. Of this marriage there was born one son, Robert Peter, Jr., an able and respected member of this Bar. Judge Peter was appointed Deputy Clerk of the Circuit Court and while ably filling this position prepared himself to pursue his chosen profession, and following his earliest inclinations eagerly embraced the study of law at the National University Law School. He was a lover of books, and from youth up his mind was fashioned to industry, study and research. After completing his law course in his early years of practice he served with accuracy and distinction as Auditor of this Honorable Court.
The opening years of his professional career were not marked by sensational success, but rather by a steady growth in the confidence of the Courts and of the people as a diligent, capable and dependable practitioner. In the Country practice of the lawyer in those days great amounts were not usually at stake, but in the preparation, presentation and trial of cases the principles of the law so laid down by Blackstone, Chitty, and other great masters of jurisprudence were after more clearly and ably presented that in controversies in the highest courts involving huge sums.
He was a life long member of the Presbyterian Church whose teachings and standards were dominant in his life, and as a younger man took a very active part in Masonry, belonging to all of the bodies from the Blue Lodge to the Shrine.
Imbued with a high sense of public duty and ardently patriotic he experienced keen interest and participated prominently in the political affairs of the County, in which he was long a leader. In 1903, he was elected to the office of State’s Attorney for Montgomery County serving in this capacity efficiently and with ability and impartiality until 1907, and thereafter was elected Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee. After his retirement from the office of State’s Attorney, Judge Peter rapidly assumed a positions as one of the leaders of the local Bar acquiring a large and successful practice which has continued to enjoy with his elevation to the Bench through appointment by Governor Albert C. Ritchie upon the untimely death of his brother, the later Judge Edward C. Peter in 1923.
If the law, as the old writers have it, is indeed a jealous mistress, she had no cause to complain of his want of love or devotion or of his absence from her chambers. He lived to realize that his fidelity to his profession had met its just reward when he was elected in the November Election of the same year without opposition, for the full term of fifteen years. The strain of his faithful and unremitting labor, resulted, as too often happens, in broken health and compelled him, to the sorrow of all who knew him, to resign on the twentieth day of October, in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-two, and after four years of retirement he departed this life on the first day of November, 1936.
Judge Peter was a lawyer and a jurist of the old school and of the first caliber. Coming from a family of lawyers and by industry, diligence and perseverance he obtained a thorough knowledge of the great fundamental principles underlying our entire legal system, which, coupled with an inherent power of sound and logical reasoning, made him peculiarly well fitted in those qualities so essential and necessary to the proper solution of intricate legal propositions. He never missed the point even of a cause that had been badly argued. He separated the chaff from the wheat as soon as he got possession of it. The most complicated entanglement of fact and laws would be promptly reduced to harmony under his hands. His expositions were so lucid that the dullest mind could follow him with that pleasure we all feel in being able to comprehend the workings of an intellect so manifestly superior.
Coming to the Bench at a time where there were quite a number of young men starting their careers in the legal profession he had the happy faculty of always allowing the beginner to be at ease in his Court and never making him feel embarrassed or belittled even though his ruling might be adverse. He gave unsparingly of his valuable time in rendering aid and assistance to these younger members of the Bar at a time when it was most needed. He was always tolerant, courteous, patient and just and in the conduct of any cause he knew neither parties nor attorneys, but his sole object was to find the truth, and then apply the law.
Despite these admirable traits, perhaps the qualification above all others, that was most outstanding, salutary and desirable was his steady and constant practice of never attempting by word, action, or expression to influence the verdict of a jury.
He fully realized that the function of a jury in its sphere was as important and as independent as that of the presiding jurist. He recognized with jealous zeal, that now established right, wrested by the blood of our forebears from tyrants and despots, that when a litigant comes into Court and prays a jury trial, he or she is entitled to have the question involved decided by twelve of their peers, so let it be said to his undying credit, to use the vernacular of the Court Room, Judge Peter never tried “to inject himself into the jury box.”
Your Honors and members of the Bar, we shall see Judge Robert B. Peter no more with our mortal eyes. He has gone from the high place of earth to the higher realms of immortality. He is lost to the Bench, to the Bar, to home and friends. We, sooner or later, shall follow him; he will return to us no more. As long, however, as the American people treasure pure lives and faithful public services; as long as public and private virtues, stainless and without blemish, is revered, so long will his name be cherished as an example worthy of the highest emulation. In the busy harvest time of death, in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-six, there was gathered into eternity no nobler spirit, no higher intelligence, no cleaner soul.
George H. Lamar
F. Barnard Welsh
John E. Oxley
Walter W. Dawson
Filed November 30th, 1936.
Responses of Judges Werner, Woodward and Willard to the foregoing Memorial are filed in the Rough Bundle of the November Term, 1936, together with the Memorial.