Under the Judge’s Gaze

David Carl Irmer's extraordinarily successful career as a commercial developer began in 1961. Since then, he has built several development companies including The Innisfree Companies. He has three sons and a daughter and resides in Tiburon with his lovely wife Martha.

I came to Menlo after applying to Stanford. When I spoke to Admissions at Stanford, they suggested that I attend a year at Menlo and said that if I solidified my position scholastically, they would consider me. I thought that this had to be good. Menlo's business school was touted as a great undergraduate education, and I knew that's where I wanted to be. Since my high school days, I knew, in some grand fashion, I wanted to be a businessman.

Judge Russell, hands down, was my mentor. He was the one who dared me to fail. By that, I mean that he would continuously say, “It's up to you. What you might want to do with your Menlo experience and your classes are really in your camp. I'm here to support you, but I need to see something coming back from you.”

I didn't have the skills that I should have had coming out of high school, simply because I didn't support my scholastic capacities in high school. I was an athlete, and none of my high school teachers engaged me to the degree that they should have. So after a couple of months of marginal scholastic activity at Menlo, Judge Russell took me by the nape of the neck and said, “You've got to commit. You've really got to get involved here.” To oversee my scholastic progress as closely as he did, on a nightly basis if necessary, was pretty unique. He made me want to succeed. It was a great experience.

I had to leave Menlo early because of a family situation. I transferred to the University of Miami, where I graduated with a business administration degree. I always regretted that I hadn't spent all of my time at Menlo. I felt that I got more out of my year at Menlo than my two and a half at Miami. It was more personalized. My courses and instruction were almost tailor-made. I remember many evenings when I was struggling with accounting. I just could not get it. I would be tutored by my instructor, not a student. Faculty would sit with me to walk me through some of the challenges I was having.

I feel that a lot of the early successes I experienced came from Menlo. It has been a great thrill to support the College and to have two children earn Menlo business degrees. My love of Menlo comes from the fact that I feel I came away with an understanding that I could do about anything I set my mind to, because I was encouraged to think that way. For instance, Judge Russell would sit with four or five of us in an evening and elaborate on life. “What do you want to get out of all of this?” he would ask. Maybe we didn't have a really clear path of understanding where we were going, but we sensed that there were great things in each of us. He would say, “Yes there are.”

What I got from Judge was not particular to my situation. A good number of the young men in my classes were experiencing the same thing. He was a very unique human being. I've never experienced anything like it since.

A small thing about the Judge that had an incredible impact on my life: Judge Russell never failed to send me a birthday card for as long as he was alive. When he retired and was in an assisted care home, I still received a birthday card with a personal note. He would also follow my career. If there was an article in the local paper about one of my developments, he was on it like a hawk. “Congratulations, I knew you had it in you,” he would write. “I was always a supporter of yours.” Just a line or two.

Judge Russell was not a pussycat, not an “attaboy.” You wouldn't find him walking down the corridors of our hallowed halls to pump you up in that silly sensibility of, “Hey, you're doing a great job.” But when he did give you the impression that he was there on your side, you knew it and you worked harder to gain that respect that you wanted so desperately from the man. That was a marvelous gift.