In 1980, Kendel Kaser arrived in Lillooet to begin his legal career as a freshly-minted graduate of UBC’s Law School.
He was idealistic about the law and his respect for its power then and he remains so today as he packs up his Main Street office and heads into retirement.
“I always had a lot of respect for what the law could affect,” Kaser told the News last week. “Laws can be somewhat arbitrary, to say the least, and the system can grind very fine. I still have that idealism that we should be equal before the law and I’m maybe even more awestruck before the law now. The law is an amazing and powerful force. When it work, it works great and when it goes wrong, it can be quite terrifying.”
He compares it to the ocean – “There are calm days and there are stormy days.”
Kaser planned to officially close his office yesterday, Nov. 15. As of last week, he was still working his way through boxes and boxes of legal files. “I’m at Box #136 now,” he states.
“I’ve opened over 6,000 files, which is hard to believe in a town of 2,000 people, but we’ve had some repeats along the way. There were repeat offenders in the criminal cases and I did a lot of real estate transactions.”
Kaser first came here to teach at Lillooet Secondary School in the mid-70s. He says he enjoyed teaching but didn’t see it as a lifetime career.
He explains “I liked teaching here but teaching is not for everyone. I had some great times teaching but I thought law would be a good way to come back to Lillooet. I didn’t plan on being a lawyer anywhere else.”
The appeal of being a small-town lawyer lies in the relationships he developed with “everybody,” not in specific legal cases, he says.
“You have long-term relationships and if you want something done, you know the person’s going to do it,” he observes. “Everyone is on a first name basis. Sometimes you don’t get along with them but it’s a first name basis.”
He continues, “It all happens really quickly. I can go from my house to the District office to the post office to the bank and back to the courthouse in a 100-metre distance from the courthouse. So you get things done pretty quickly around here. And my commute was walking from upstairs in my house down to my office on the main floor.”
Watching him in court over the years, the News noted that Kaser could often find a moment of levity in the midst of the serious proceedings.
“There are some very amusing times we’ve had in the courtroom, but I daren’t be too specific about it,” he comments. “Court is such a tense thing, but in a little town like Lillooet, the humanity comes forward and it can break into humour very quickly. Usually there’s tension so I try to lighten it up somewhat if circumstances warrant.”
Now 67, Kaser says he’s looking forward to traveling, spending time with his wife and watching his daughter Frannie (recently graduated with double honours from McGill) and son Tom (top marks in physics and chemistry at Dalhousie) continue to excel in their studies.
The News wondered, is he really ready to retire?
His reply: “No, I’m not ready to retire, but if I don’t do it soon, then when?”
Kaser shares an anecdote about his father and the time he was trying to convince his dad to retire from a long career in teaching.
“I told him ‘Why don’t you retire?’ and said I couldn’t imagine anything worse than teaching and retiring and dying. He said, ‘Oh, I can think of something worse – teaching, dying and continuing to teach.’ If you don’t make a move at some point, you’ll never know if you like retirement or not.”
Looking back on his 36 years of being the local lawyer, he says, “I’ve met the most interesting people and learned the most interesting things.”
Professional ethics prevent him from being more specific, but he maintains, “Lillooet’s full of unusual people, real characters. I’ve just enjoyed it so much and I’ve had a great time. The people are the reason, and, of course, the climate. There are so many wonderful people in Lillooet and they were very kind to me. It’s a great place.”