Ralf Eric Gilbert, 87, formerly of Morrisville and then Yardley, a Bucks County lawyer and an outdoorsman, died Tuesday, Nov. 10, of dementia at Brightview Senior Living in Devon.
He had been living in Manheim, Lancaster County, for the last five years.
The son of Claude and Irella Bearns Gilbert, he was raised on their truck farm in East Rockhill Township and graduated from Quakertown High School in 1951.
He was the first of his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College in 1955. While there, he met fellow student Loretta Greth. They were married by her father, the Rev. Dr. Morris Greth, also in 1955.
He enrolled in Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., but volunteered for the military after his first year. He served from 1956 to 1960 in the Air Force, piloting large troop carriers. He was honorably discharged with the rank of first lieutenant and decorated with the Air Force Longevity Service Award.
Although he loved flying, Mr. Gilbert returned to Dickinson Law School and graduated in 1962 with a J.D. degree. He kept his hand in aviation by flying medical evacuation planes for the Pennsylvania National Guard.
He had a distinguished career as a lawyer for 50 years starting in 1962. He was a Bucks County assistant district attorney and president of the Bucks County Bar Association from April 1984 to April 1985. He maintained a solo legal practice in Fairless Hills, specializing in family and municipal law. He served as solicitor to Morrisville Borough and the Morrisville School District.
One of his proudest achievements, he told family, was helping to create and then serving on the board of the Legal Aid Society of Southeastern PA. The group provides free legal services to low-income clients and victims of domestic abuse.
“This was a cause that Ralf long championed through pro bono work in his practice,” his family said.
The one thing that eluded Mr. Gilbert was a judgeship. He had aspired to the Bucks County Common Pleas Court bench and was nominated by Gov. Dick Thornburgh in February 1986 to fill the unexpired term of Judge Edmund V. Ludwig. The term ran until January 1988.
“There are a lot of people who know I understand the law, and that I have a nice temperament, and they’d like to see me be a judge,” Mr. Gilbert, a Republican, told the Allentown Morning Call in a Nov. 21, 1986, article.
But when he and the GOP power brokers couldn’t get enough support from Democrats to amass the two-thirds majority vote in the state Senate to approve the nomination, Mr. Gilbert reluctantly withdrew his name from consideration.
An avid hunter, fisherman, and nature lover, he liked nothing better than to go to deer camp each fall with his male relatives. “He was respectful of all living creatures and of nature,” said daughter Sharon DiPietro. “Ralf didn’t harvest any game or fish that he and his family didn’t eat. He was happy to share with friends and relatives.”
After retiring in 2012, he and his wife traveled. His favorite destination was Italy.
Another passion was hosting family gatherings including an annual Christmas party in which he recapped the family’s accomplishments, with emphasis on each grandchild. “When he was talking to you, you felt like the most important person in the room at that moment,” said grandson Eric DiPietro.
Although giving advice was his stock in trade, he told family that kindness should be freely given to others: “Treat everyone fairly, equally, and with respect. You never know when you are going to change someone’s life with a simple act of kindness.”
He was a charter and council member of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Morrisville. For many years, he taught Bible study to children, and enjoyed tending the St. John’s flower gardens.
Besides his wife, daughter Sharon, and grandson Eric, he is survived by daughters Linda Gilbert and Diane Smith; six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; two sisters; and a brother.
Services were private. A public memorial service will be held next spring.