This American Life’s Ira Glass and Knobbe Martens’ Joe Re.
After hearing a spot about his family on public radio’s “This American Life” this weekend, I can now see he has some mediator chops as well.
Re is the eighth of 12 children from a high-achieving family—mother was an attorney and father served as the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The passing of their parents in 2006 and 2017 led to some sibling rivalries over division of the estate, which included homes, engagement rings, family photographs and memorabilia.
It sounds as if Joe was the one everyone trusted to put together a complex auction system to divide the property equally—though that trust only extended to a point. When he offered to put 12 numbers on ping pong balls and videotape his 5-year-old neighbor picking each one to determine the order of selection, at least one sibling objected.
“I said, ‘What do you want me to do, get Price Waterhouse like they do the academy awards?’ He said, ‘That would be a great idea.’ So I literally got an accounting firm here in Orange County,” Re tells Ira Glass.
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In the end, the auction goes smoothly. Re’s sister gets a turkey platter that she prized because it was said to have come from the family of Robert F. Kennedy. Re got a pen that John F. Kennedy used to sign legislation.
It all leads Re to reflect on the source of the rivalries. “A lot of this just dealt with trying to get my parents’ attention, affection and love, because my parents had so little time to give to each one of us,” Re says. Some of the children, for example, competed by learning facts about U.S. presidents. Challenged by Glass, Re demonstrates that he can still rattle off the names of the first 22 in seven seconds.
Re’s father was competitive too. “He was always No. 1 in his class. He spoke five languages. He played seven instruments. … He was assistant secretary of state,” Re says. “So to measure up to an imposing parent like that, you’re always going to feel inadequate.”
It’s surprising to hear from a lawyer who’s served as president of the Federal Circuit Bar Association and is in line to become president of AIPLA in 2020. But Re is philosophical about it. “That’s the way it goes when you have great parents,” he tells Glass.