By Yvette tenBerge
The audience of judges, lawyers and courthouse employees becomes hushed as Superior Court Judge Wayne L. Peterson approaches the bench. Although most of those in the crowd usually come to court to witness its "trials and tribulations," on Friday, August 17 they gathered to honor 80 year-old Ramiro "Rayme" M. Medina, the recently retired notary public and "unofficial court ambassador" who donated 25 years of volunteer assistance to visitors to the 220 West Broadway building.
Sounds of muffled emotion came from the crowd as Judge Peterson read aloud from a plaque to be installed near Mr. Medina's old "office" &SHY; a stand across from the information booth in the courthouse lobby. Having expressed his own "deep appreciation" for the man who greeted him every morning, bright and early, "singing like a bird," Judge Peterson was followed by virtually every person in the room as they, too stood up to thank Mr. Medina personally for touching their own lives.
Although it is not unusual for a long-time employee or volunteer to be recognized for his contributions, it is unusual to find someone whose kindness and love for humanity causes people from all walks of life, to stop their frantic pace to simply say thank you.
Ask Mr. Medina what all of the
fuss is about and he will shrug his shoulders, offer you a perplexed
look of wonder and tell you that he does not know. "I don't
feel like I did anything extraordinary. I was just doing my job
and being myself. It's not a big deal to help people and to be
nice to them," says Mr. Medina, sitting in his airy kitchen
wearing a gift from his children, a black ball cap with the words
"Papa Loco" embroidered above the rim. "I don't
feel like I really deserve the award, but they gave it to me,
and I'm going to take it."
Mr. Medina has worked since 1976 as a notary public, serving as a witness to people signing affidavits, depositions, bank loans and other legal and real estate documents. He has also served as a voter registration officer, signing up an estimated 20,000 potential voters. Mr. Medina can say that he was just "doing his job," but the acts for which he is remembered and the attitude that he brings to everything that he does prove that he did much more than that.
Those who know Mr. Medina will list countless uncommon acts of kindness that he performed day in and day out. Often, he would wave fees for those who could not afford to get their documents notarized, provide directions for and escort people to their courthouse destination, explain the local system to bewildered visitors, travel to the homes or offices of those in need of his services and provide free Spanish translations. What strikes people most of all, though, is that Mr. Medina managed to perform each of these tasks with respect and with a passion rarely found in today's world.
Judge Federico Castro, a Superior Court Judge since 1987, has known Mr. Medina for the past 15 years. As his notary stand was positioned just to the right of the courthouse entrance, Mr. Medina was generally the first person with whom visitors came into contact. "He was always cheerful, and I have never known him to be anything but gracious and very accepting of everybody. When he notarized documents, sometimes people paid and sometimes they did not. Sometimes they paid with a check that bounced, and he never got upset about it," says Judge Castro. "I have never heard anyone say anything negative about Rayme."
Mr. Medina admits that, before coming to the courthouse in 1975 to interview for a place on the grand jury, he had "never talked to a lawyer, never talked to a judge and had never been to a courthouse." He stares at a straw hat on the kitchen table. It is filled with letters of appreciation from some of the people with whom he has come into contact over the years and with get-well cards from friends who mailed their blessings after his recent triple bypass surgery. He smiles proudly before stating that he and his wife have answered virtually every single card and then leans forward to start his tale.
"When I was a young kid, I was a dreamer. My body was here, but my mind was someplace else. I wanted to go to New York; I wanted to go to Europe; I wanted to be in the Olympics," says Mr. Medina, recalling the day in 1944 that he told his father that he was leaving Mexico for the United States. It was his plan to join the army and then get shipped off to Europe. It was there that he would kill Hitler and end World War II.
Although joining the army did not get him to Germany, it did help get him to Santa Barbara, California in 1946 where he met and married his wife of 55 years. Ms. Medina stifles her laughter when asked if she knew that her husband was such a dreamer when she married him. "I knew him for three months before we got married, got onto a bus and took off. We were in love, so it felt good. I did not discover the dreamer right away," says Ms. Medina. "But when I did, I thought he was crazy because he did not have the money to fulfill his dreams."
The Medinas exchange a look before both breaking into smiles. Mr. Medina goes on to tell about his 25-year career as an employee of the North Island Naval Station. After retiring in 1972, he worked as a car salesman in Chula Vista and took a three-week vacation to Europe. After finishing a year-long term on the Grand Jury from 1975 to 1976, Mr. Medina took over the notary public booth after his friend, Richard Honey, moved on from the job.
"Richard was very distinguished looking, and he had an eloquent vocabulary. He looked like an old notary public from the 1920s. We become friends while I was serving on the Grand Jury and he let me know he was thinking of leaving. He told me that I should take over for him, but warned me that the hours were long, the pay was bad and the job was boring," says Mr. Medina. His eyes twinkle as he recalls Mr. Honey's last day on the job. "I asked him if he had any words of wisdom for me before he left, something that would stay with me for the rest of my life. He turned to me, took off his glasses, cleaned them and then said, `Rayme, you are the biggest bullshitter in all of Mexico.'"
Mr. Medina seems genuinely puzzled that courthouse employees would think to honor him with plaques and a ceremony. Like a detective sharing the results of a long search, he pulls out a "Good-Bye" letter that he left in July when he was "retiring" from the courthouse. "I left 200 copies of this letter, and I believe that is what started this. The people I worked with in the courthouse were my family away from home, so maybe what touched these people was the letter. I thanked them for being important in my life," says Mr. Medina. He admits that perhaps he is "too sentimental" as he returns from a back room in his home with a slim, black case made for carrying business cards. The rigid feel of the plastic betrays its age.
"In 1972, I had to retire due to a disability. A guy went around and collected money and notes for me. I have kept every single thing, every single penny, every card, everything," says Mr. Medina, opening the case to show rows of coins, dollar bills and notes. Ms. Medina walks through the kitchen and asks when he is going to "spend that money." He closes the case before answering. "When I die and my son marries, he can do whatever he wants with it. I told you, Vicki, I'm never going to spend this money."
Mr. Medina might be having a hard time trying to figure out why on earth his presence has touched so many lives, but those who know him do not hesitate to explain. Judge H. Ronald Domnitz has been a Superior Court Judge for more than 18 years. He has known Mr. Medina since 1976. "Rayme is a true gentleman in times when we do not have true gentlemen. He is so modest, and he helps people regardless of their status. He helped me when I was a lawyer; he helped me when I was a judge, and he helps people on the street. To tell you the truth, until about 10 years ago, I thought the court paid him to do what he did. I do not think the court could have hired a more effective public relations person than Rayme Medina," says Judge Domnitz. "I know that every day that I walked into the building and walked past his desk, he had a smile and a good word for me. Now, he is not there, and I feel a void."
Ask Mr. Medina about what has made him into the man he is today, and the answer is simple. "People choose what life they are going to have. I have a beautiful wife, and I have six kids who still come to see me. I am most proud of my family. They are my best accomplishment. All of these things, all of these awards don't mean anything if you don't have a family," says Mr. Medina, bowing his head in an attempt to control his emotions. Without skipping a beat, he suggests a title for this latest piece on his life. "Good-Will Ambassador Leaves Courthouse After 25 Years,' what do you think?"