I hugged a sign.
I hugged a sign last weekend, and it hugged me back.
At this very moment, cars are driving over the Judge Ramón Alvarado Bridge in Gwinnett County. I am overjoyed and grateful to everyone who made this possible, especially State Representative Chuck Efstration for proposing the bill, which passed unanimously.
I spoke at the event, and here’s my best attempt to recap what I said.
Ramón pulled into a parking spot as we ran errands one afternoon. As we exited the car, a man approached us asking for money. He said he’d just gotten out of jail and needed transportation. His explanation went on for a while, and when he was done, Ramón gave him a heartfelt, “I’m sorry, man,” and we headed into the store.
Midway through our shopping trip, Ramón said he’d be right back. I figured he was going back to grab an item we missed from an earlier aisle. A few minutes later, he returned empty-handed.
“Where were you?” I asked.
Ramón said, “Well, I thought more about that guy’s story, and I think he may have been telling us the truth. I went back outside and found him.” He explained that many of his clients (He was a defense lawyer at the time.) struggled to reenter society — even to find a way home after release. After digesting the man’s story, Ramón felt compelled to help him. So he did.
If I hadn’t asked Ramón where he went, I would never have known of his act of generosity. That’s the kind of generous he was — the type where you don’t seek credit or ensure that you’re recognized. In the two years since Ramón died, I continue to hear stories of the kind things he did — the things he never told me about because they were pure and altruistic.
In the hospital during cancer treatment, it was common for people to ask Ramón what he does for a living.
“I work for Gwinnett County.” That's all he'd say.
Meanwhile, I sat beside his bed, trying with all my might not to let the words “AS A JUDGE” explode from my mouth. I wanted Ramón to take credit for having achieved his long-time dream of becoming a judge. In my eyes, he was downplaying an amazing accomplishment, and I wanted him to take some freakin’ credit for it.
There was a dry-erase board hanging on the hospital wall, and people entering the room would glance at the board so they could address the patient by name. When Ramón wasn’t paying attention, I changed his Preferred Name to read “Your Honor.“ He didn’t appreciate it when someone walked in and addressed him, “Your Honor,” but I did.
Ultimately, I just wanted him to take credit. Ramón was and is worthy of recognition. Now he’s getting it, and there’s nothing he can do about it!
Though I’m sure I’m missing some (and please comment if I am!), a handful of Ramón’s postmortem recognitions include:
A memorial tribute at the courthouse
The Ramón Alvarado Memorial Scholarship Fund at the National Criminal Defense College (NCDC)
The Ramón Alvarado Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School (This will eventually be housed on UW’s website, but legal stuff and paperwork and what not...)
And now, there’s the Judge Ramón Alvarado Bridge.
So, TAKE THAT, Your Honor!
At our wedding, we personalized our vows to say, “In the good times and the really good times.” So, thank you, Ramón, for the good times and the really good times. And I thank all of you whose presence made Saturday another really good time.
I didn’t get a chance to adequately express my thanks to everyone in attendance, but I appreciate you. Ramón died at the height of the pandemic, and although I received a lot of love and support, I didn’t realize how much peace it would bring me to experience the love in person. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the amazing folks who helped make this event happen.
The heaviness in my heart has ebbed and flowed since Ramón died. But now my heart feels light. If hearts can frolic through a field of sunflowers, that’s what mine’s doing.