Law of the American Bar Association, recipient of countless honors and awards, etc. Baker noted that while on the Court of Appeals, Judge Ambro had written over 1,000 opinions, dissents, concurring opinions or orders, and had sat on panels that had issued over 4,000 decisions or orders. He added, unnecessarily for the Fellows in the audience, that Judge Ambro’s bankruptcy opinions were widely respected both inside and outside the insolvency community.
But the introduction went beyond that, with Baker warmly discussing Judge Ambro the person: Dedicated to justice, gracious, kind, humble and unassuming. This was not news to those of us fortunate enough to know Judge Ambro, but sent a message to all attendees that one could reach the pinnacle of our profession and yet remain the kind of a person we all aspire to be.
After thanking Baker for the wonderful introduction, Judge Ambro surprised the audience by not talking about substantive law or even the practice of law. In fact, he didn’t talk about himself at all. Instead, he taught us a life lesson about how one act could impact the lives of countless people over several generations. It was the story of Chester Wernecke, a soldier who risked his life to save the life of Joseph F.
Weis, Jr., who was severely wounded during a World War II battle in France. Weis went on to become a respected lawyer in Pittsburgh, a state
court judge, a federal district judge for three years and, from 1973 until his death in 2014, a judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Weis was an outstanding jurist, and in 1995, the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh was named in his honor. During his 40 years on the federal bench, Judge Weis mentored numerous law clerks, many of whom later rose to great heights in the legal, academic and judicial communities. If not for Wernecke’s selfless act, Judge Weis would have died on the battlefield, would not have become a judge, would not have mentored all those law clerks, and would not have made his substantial contributions to the administration of justice. And, of course, Judge Weis’s family, would not have existed. Judge Ambro’s talk reminded us that our actions matter, and that they touch not only ourselves and those directly impacted by them, but also how they can affect many others, including those who have not yet been born. The talk was both riveting and instructive, and was a wonderful illustration of the reason why Judge Ambro was selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award.
Judge Ambro (left) receives the 2017 DSA from presenter D.J. (Jan) Baker (right).