Judge John Gabbert, one of UC Riverside’s Founders, Dies at 104

The campus community is mourning the loss of a lifelong friend

Judge John Gabbert

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu)  — The Honorable John G. Gabbert, one of Riverside’s most prominent citizens and a key founder of UC Riverside, died Monday, Dec. 9 at the age of 104.

“Throughout his life, Gabbert maintained his ties to the campus he helped build and to the local community,” said Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox in a message to the campus community.  “For several years after he retired from his legal career, he served as an adjunct professor in UCR’s political science department, creating and teaching a popular moot court class. We will miss him greatly.”

A former chancellor, Timothy P. White, said “John Gabbert was an extraordinary man, a leader, a pillar in our community. As a lawyer, a judge, a citizen, I cannot overstate the impact that he had, not merely UC Riverside, but all of the Inland Southern California region. His was a life well lived and he will be truly missed.”

As a founding member of the Citizen’s University Committee, Gabbert was instrumental in the efforts to bring a University of California campus to Riverside. When the State of California began looking into adding campuses to the UC system, the CUC worked tirelessly to lobby members of the Strayer Committee about turning the UC Citrus Experiment Station into a liberal arts university.

“There were a whole series of Strayer Committee meetings from Eureka to San Diego, from Redding, Fresno, Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and all around, we had somebody at every darn meeting,” Gabbert recounted in an oral history recorded in 1998. “We might have missed a meeting in Eureka or missed one in Redding, but I know I went to several meetings that were in Southern California.”

He went on to become a founding member of the UC Riverside Foundation Board of Trustees, serving from 1980 through 1998 and was the first recipient of the UCR Foundation’s Trustee’s Award for Extraordinary Service. He also received the UC Riverside Founders Award and the CUC’s Outstanding Service Award. His other awards include the Riverside Bar Association Krieger Service Award and The Leo A. Deegan Inns of the Court Award.

Last year the Citizens University Committee established an endowed scholarship in his name to provide scholarships to UCR students from the Inland area.

In another project in the last few years, UCR Extension created a history of John Gabbert’s life and put it on two DVDs.

Born in Oxnard, California in 1909, Gabbert moved to Riverside at the age of three when his father, John R. Gabbert, purchased a half-interest in the Enterprise newspaper. He attended Riverside-area schools until his family moved to South Pasadena in 1925. He graduated from South Pasadena HS, then returned to Riverside in 1927 to attend Riverside Community College. From there he earned his bachelor’s degree at Occidental College, then went on to earn a law degree at the Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley in 1934.

Gabbert became a deputy district attorney in Riverside in 1935 and, in 1938, he joined Raymond and Eugene Best’s law firm and became a partner in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945 as a special agent in the Criminal Investigation Division, being admitted to practice before the Philippine Supreme Court in1945. He returned to Best, Best, Gabbert and Krieger after the war but left the firm for good in 1949 when he was appointed as a judge on the Riverside County Superior Court.

He served with the court until 1970, when Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him to Fourth District Court of Appeals. He retired from the bench in 1974.

Gabbert was preceded in death by his wife, Katherine, who passed away in 1999. His survivors include his daughters Sarah and Katherine, his son Scott and a number of grandchildren.

The family would like memorial donations to be made to the Gabbert Justice Fund, which is administered through the Riverside Community Foundation, or to the John Gabbert Scholarship at UCR.

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