By Jiggs Gallagher, June 13, 2016: Judge Robert D. Macomber, a prominent California jurist and lifelong Adventist, died May 12 in Riverside at the age of 90.
Born July 25, 1925, in Modesto (California), Judge Macomber served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was drafted during his senior year of high school and served in the European Theater. On his discharge, he enrolled at La Sierra College in Riverside in 1946, graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1950.
His son, Michael Macomber (an attorney with Kettering Health Network in Ohio), said his father’s lack of a high school diploma created a problem for him several weeks before graduation from La Sierra. He had to go back to his old high school district in Modesto, take an examination similar to today’s General Equivalency Degree (GED) and then qualify to receive his undergraduate college degree in the spring of 1950.
Macomber taught chemistry at La Sierra College from 1950 to 1952 and then served as a research chemist at the nearby Mira Loma Quartermaster Depot from 1952 to 1955. He then moved to the public school system in San Bernardino, teaching chemistry at Pacific High School from 1955 to 1964. During that period, he earned a master’s degree in chemistry at what is now California State University, Los Angeles, and later a law degree (J.D.) in night school at the University of Southern California.
“He had toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer since college,” said son Michael, “but his family told him the profession wouldn’t let him be a ‘good’ Seventh-day Adventist. That was a prevalent feeling among church members in those days,” he added.
In 1960, the future attorney and judge actually visited the dean’s office at the chemistry department at USC to explore getting a doctorate in the subject. According to his son, Macomber discovered his appointment had been cancelled because the officer mistakenly went golfing that afternoon. He looked up from his parking space and saw the university’s law school nearby, so he took his package of transcripts in to ask for an appointment. They met with him on the spot, arranged for him to take the LSAT exam and the rest is history. He received his J.D. degree in 1964.
Macomber’s career as an attorney led him to a strong bent toward public service. He was elected to the Alvord Unified School District board in 1965, serving on the governing body of the public school district until 1971. Then he ran for Riverside City Council in 1971, serving there until 1974. Outgoing Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him in that year to the Riverside Municipal Court as a judge. He remained there until 1986, when he decided to run for an elective judge spot on the Riverside County Superior Court, where he remained until retiring in 1994. He continued to serve part time on the court as a retiree until 2012.
Macomber’s dedication to the Adventist Church involved many organizations and areas. He served on the denomination’s Southeastern California Conference executive committee for nine years, and for 20 years on the board of Weimar Institute, an independent Adventist health and education institution in Northern California. In addition, he served in various volunteer capacities with Corona Community Hospital, and when its parent non-profit, Versicare, Inc., another independent Adventist health agency, sold the facility and became a philanthropic foundation, Macomber continued to work with that organization in its new funding role until 2012.
“My father was a big supporter of Adventist education,” Michael added. “Over the years, he and my mother opened their home at no charge to 26 different students at La Sierra University and La Sierra Academy. Some of the students stayed for a summer or a year, and others stayed for several years. He had a big home and he wanted to help needy students. My siblings never knew who we would find living there when we went home!”
Macomber’s influence was felt on those students, Michael added. “At least four of those 26 chose law as their profession.”
Others who served with Macomber were effusive in their praise. Dennis McConghy of Oceanside, commented, “I came to Riverside in 1981 and Judge Macomber was my first assignment. He became my good friend and mentor when I was made a judge; he had gentlemanly ways and was a wonderful man.”
Brian Fountain, a retired deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said, “Judge Macomber was “approachable, never arrogant, a quiet but very strong man.”
Macomber is survived by his wife Marjorie, to whom he was married for 65 years; three brothers, five children, 15 grand-children and two great-grand-children. His memorial service took place at the Corona Seventh-day Adventist Church on June 4.
Jiggs Gallagher recently joined the team at Adventist Today as a senior editor working primarily with news.