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August 30, 2023 Retirement

Before the Sun Sets, Look for a New Horizon

Peter M. Walzer

December 1944: “It’s raining and sleeting like crazy, and I’m stuck in my foxhole, and I can’t come up because there are Germans all over the place. And suddenly, these huge tiger tanks start rumbling by. It was just this awful combination of bone-chilling cold and pure dread. There was no question in my mind I was going to die that night. I was just waiting to get ground down and become part of the clay in that hole. I also think of it as a great moment in my life. Because it gave me a tremendous sense of perspective. Everything since then, every moment I’ve lived, everything I’ve experienced, has been pure gravy.”

After the war, my father, Stuart Walzer, went to undergraduate school at UCLA and then Harvard Law School. Stuart and my mother, Paula Silverston Walzer, made their home in Los Angeles in 1951. He started practicing law. My parents raised four boys.

He became a nationally known divorce lawyer and trial lawyer. He wrote prolifically and lectured throughout the country on family law issues. He was a member of the Governor’s commission that established no-fault divorce in California. Undoubtedly, his identity was wrapped up in being a Harvard-educated lawyer, the “dean” of divorce lawyers, an intellectual, a literary man, and a master gardener. He retired at age 70 and moved to Carmel.

Not only was he a fine lawyer, but he was also wise. He intuitively knew that he could not be successful in retirement if he was close to the hub of his practice. If he stayed in Los Angeles, he would “slouch” back into the world of law. He often quoted Justice Story, who said, “The law is a jealous mistress . . .”  He also knew how to stay married to my mother, who knew that Stuart would not let go of the practice easily.

Stuart's multidimensional nature made it effortless for him to discover new interests in retirement. He embodied the spirit of a Renaissance man, engaging in various pursuits simultaneously. Juggling two or three books at a time, he and my mom conducted classes on James Joyce and Shakespeare. He initiated and presided over the Lawyer Literary Society of the Los Angeles County Bar Association for two decades, hosting meetings in his living room. His expertise as a Master Gardener is reflected in his cherished garden. Enjoying social gatherings, he frequently hosted parties for clients and fellow lawyers at his residence. Even in retirement, he embraced these passions by becoming a garden club member and running a new book club.

There was another reason to make a clean break. Throughout his professional and family life, he wrestled with the demons that lurked in the frozen Ardennes Forest. The bright side of that experience was the perspective that nothing was as bad as war. But there was also the dark side, including killing the enemy and patrolling prison camps. This undercurrent of memory was a driving force and a dark cloud that hung over him through the decades. It was time to come to terms with the memories and try to resolve the issues.

Carmel is described as a forest village overlooking a white sand beach. The houses are beautiful and close to Monterey, beaches, and Big Sur. Carmel is adjacent to Monterey, which has a law school and an art museum with almost 30,000 people.

Monterey is also the home of the Naval Post-Graduate School. Five retired men in their seventies and eighties who taught at the school were in a men’s group. They jokingly called themselves, “The Girl Watcher’s Club,” and invited my dad to join them. This was new for my dad. The other men had different political views. They were all World War II veterans. None of the men in the group were lawyers. This gave my dad an entirely new perspective on life. This group provided the space for my dad to process his World War II trauma. The trauma that he had pushed aside for fifty years. This psychic force had driven him to be successful, but it had to be addressed, and this was a group of men who understood.

Retiring gave my dad a chance to spend his later years in contemplation. Getting out of Los Angeles was the clean break he needed. It allowed him to look at the forces that drove him to success. He had the opportunity to face the demons that had pursued him throughout the years.

Looking back at his previous life, my dad said, “There are many people, especially in a place like LA, who consider their lives meaningful only if they’re constantly around others they regard as successful and important. It’s self-worth by association.” He was saying this about himself. By moving to Carmel, he stopped caring as much about what other people thought of him. He built new relationships that “did not have to be professionally useful.” Although he found a new life, on occasion, he missed it. “I still sometimes have a little twinge; that mentality isn’t easy to shake even when you know the value system behind it is completely empty.”

My father’s retirement was more than just a change of pace; it was a transformation. Moving away from Los Angeles to the serene coastal town of Carmel provided the clean break he needed. It was an opportunity for him to face the haunting memories of war that had lingered for decades and find solace and resolution among fellow veterans in the "Girl Watcher's Club." In Carmel, he embraced a new life, unburdened by the opinions of others. Although occasional twinges of his successful career tormented him, Stuart's retirement became a time of building new relationships, contemplation, and personal growth.

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    Peter M. Walzer

    Founding Partner | Walzer Melcher LLP

    Peter M. Walzer is the founding partner of the Southern California law firm Walzer Melcher LLP, a practice focused exclusively on family law with offices in Woodland Hills. Peter handles multifaceted and contentious divorce cases. He skillfully negotiates marital agreements. His cases involve people with “out of the ordinary” personal and financial issues. Many of the matters that he handles involve cases where one of the parties lives in another state or country. His clients include entertainers, business owners, inventors, entrepreneurs, real estate investors, athletes, and financiers. Peter is an extraordinary leader. He served as president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2018-2019), an organization consisting of 1650 preeminent family lawyers in the United States. He is the past chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Family Law Section, a past president of the Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and former chair of the executive committee of the State Bar Family Law Section. Peter is the leading expert in his field. Peter has been a Certified Family Law Specialist for 34 years and is a former president of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists. He is a former member of the Council of the American Bar Association Family Law Section. Peter is a trailblazer. He was a member of the Elkins Family Law Task Force, a statewide panel which improved the efficiency and fairness of family law proceedings by recommending changes to legislation and court rules. Peter sets a standard of excellence. Peter was named Family Law Person of the Year in 2009 by the Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Fellow of the Year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2010. He is listed in Best Lawyers in America and is AV rated by Martindale-Hubble. Peter received the Southwestern Law School Max A. Goodman Family Law Legacy Award on June 10, 2017. Chambers and Partners named him a "Leader in Their Field" and ranked him in Band 1 for their 2018-2021 High Net Worth Guide for Family Law. Peter’s articles have been featured in various publications, including Los Angeles Lawyer, ABA Family Advocate, California Lawyer, LACBA News and Review, and State Bar Family Law Section Family Law News. He lectures regularly for the State Bar, UCLA, CEB, ACFLS, AAML, and various other organizations.