THE SPIRITUAL children of Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman gathered in the cold yesterday to bid him farewell, and found he had controlled his dying as meticulously as he controlled his courtroom, or his connection to generations of Baltimore youngsters, or his 76 years of life.
On a chilly, sun-dappled morning at the Chizuk Amuno Cemetery three days after a despondent Hammerman shot himself to death, the longest-serving trial jurist in Maryland history was buried beneath a cluster of barren trees, surrounded by several hundred mourners whose lives he touched through the city's courts, and Baltimore City College, and the Lancers Club. They knew him as mentor and friend and surrogate father. Yesterday they also discovered that, as usual, the judge got the last word.
There were no eulogies, only a reciting of the kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead, and Hammerman's own summing-up for his "last captive audience," three handwritten pages sent preemptively last week to Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, along with funeral instructions.
They were all read aloud by the rabbi, whose voice was nearly swallowed in sound by the nearby thrumming of a cemetery tractor. Then Hammerman was buried in a plain pine box - also at his instruction.
"My excellent journey," Hammerman called his life.
It was, until the very end.
Hammerman served as a judge for 43 years, and for 59 years headed the Lancers Club for local teens. For generations, also, he kept strong ties to his high school alma mater, City College, and fondly recalled both his principal, Doc Edwards, and his English teacher, John Pentz, in his final written memories.
The judge made no further reference to his suicide, which he explained in a 10-page letter mailed to 2,200 friends last week, in which he cited what he believed was encroaching Alzheimer's and diminishing eyesight, and the fear of being committed to a nursing home - "a fate I am not prepared to accept."
Nor were his mourners prepared to accept his death, or the manner in which it arrived.
"Judge Hammerman raised a lot of us," said attorney Carolyn Saxon, looking across the large crowd yesterday. "When you went into his courtroom, you knew he required excellence. So he raised a lot of us as lawyers. You knew you had to do stuff the right way."
"A great judge, and an even better person," said Robert Bell, chief judge of the state's highest court. "He was committed to so many young people for so many years. You can't replace that. He demanded a lot of people, but no more than he demanded of himself."
"This is so typical of the judge, getting all these people together from all these different backgrounds," said Gary Handleman, vice president at the MCI Center, who first met Hammerman when he played basketball at City College. "I think we're all here just to thank him one last time."
Saying he "wanted no eulogy," Hammerman's written remarks cited another judge with Baltimore ties, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was asked to sum up his own life.
"He did the best he could," Hammerman quoted Marshall.
"I'm sure he did," Hammerman said. "But I have not."
He said he had not lived up to his own high standards. They were standards that led him from City College to Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School, to a judgeship at 33. A bachelor, he had a lifelong love affair with the law and a desire, fulfilled thousands of times over, to mentor young people.
"A tough disciplinarian," said photographer Michael Friedman, a Lancers Boys Club member from the early 1960s. "But you realized later all his decisions were the right decisions - until now."
"He used to come to all our games," said the city's new police commissioner, Leonard Hamm, who was captain of City's basketball team in 1967. "He was very supportive of us. But, more important, he understood character. He wanted you to be as good as you could be."
"I'll always remember," said State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, "when I went into the hospital for surgery some time back, I got a note from him, saying he would have prayers said for me at synagogue. He didn't have to do that. You don't forget something like that."
Hammerman was not always an easy man. He ran a tough courtroom, but a fair one. He demanded high standards of young people at a time of their lives when discipline seems particularly onerous. He could be long-winded.
In his final remarks, he noted, "You would have thought that my passing would finally shut me up."
But he had important things to say. Across many difficult years, he was a man reaching across the law, and across racial and religious lines, and across the generations. Such people bind communities. In his final message, Hammerman quoted lines from Les Miserables:
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
In which case, Hammerman's spirit saw God's countenance hundreds of times over yesterday.