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May. 21, 2019
11:01 am


Judge Lancaster hoped to see water dispute settled

By Jane Harrison
In 2015, Ralph Ivan Lancaster, Jr. half quipped that he hoped to “live long enough” to see Florida and Georgia come to terms in their long-standing water dispute. He did not.
The former Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court in 2014 to help guide the states to justice died Jan. 22 at home in Maine with his wife, Mary Lou, at his side. He was 88.
In his four years overseeing Florida v. Georgia, Lancaster displayed the fairness, veracity, and dedication to the law that earned him an unprecedented four Special Master appointments from the High Court. His wit, mental acuity and cordiality came out in thousands of pages of court transcripts read by reporters who followed the case and by states’ attorneys and colleagues with whom he communicated regularly.
Lancaster trod a rough path from his Depression Era beginnings to eventually stand before the U.S. Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Yet, he did not mention personal achievements in the obituary he wrote for his hometown paper, The Portland Press Herald. “Material matters pale into insignificance when compared to the love of family and friends,” he wrote. He also expressed a simple philosophy that under gird his days: “I loved life and believed that you should live fully in the moment. I believed that laughter is the leaven of life.”
He began his 60-plus years at Portland’s Pierce Atwood LLP – the first and only legal firm he ever worked for – and rose to become a courtroom fixture in Maine and all over the country. Maine’s chief justice hailed him “the Lion of the Maine bar.” Pierce Atwood managing partner David Barry told Maine Public Radio, “What separated him from so many of the rest of us, was he was terrifically smart and had an unsurpassed and almost intimidating work ethic."
A Nov. 2016 Lakeside profile on Lancaster provided some back story on what drove Lancaster’s hammer and sharpened his views on life and the law. Raised by a great aunt and uncle after his mother died when he was three, he drove a garbage truck, installed roofing, peddled encyclopedias, sold movie tickets, kept bar, and clerked to support family and pay for law school.
Described as cheerful, gentlemanly, affable, tireless, open-minded, quick to grasp and sift complex issues, and extraordinarily prompt and fair, the prominent Maine legal expert possessed the attributes sought out by the High Court and cherished by friends interviewed for the Lakeside story.
While overseeing Georgia-Florida water case, he repeatedly urged Florida and Georgia to settle. “Let me warn you that this isn’t the last time you’re going to hear this drum beat. I have tried a lot of cases over my career. I have never regretted one I have settled,” he told states attorneys shortly after his appointment. The warring parties declined and the battle continues under a new special master appointed in Aug. 2018.
Lancaster is survived by his wife, three daughters, three sons, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Posted online 2/28/19
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