As I sat at the bar at the Quarterdeck with Falmouth legend Judge George Lebherz recently, he looked around wistfully and said adoringly, “I love this place. I call it the library.” That is an appropriate moniker for Falmouth’s version of “Cheers,” where everyone knows your name, as it is and always has been a place for learning and exploring. Seated before George was a treasure trove of condiments provided by longtime bartender Jim McDonnell, including three kinds of mustard, malt vinegar, several relishes, and, of course, ketchup. When his hot dog arrived, the judge reached out his 90-year-old hand assertively and grabbed the yellow mustard, the most pedestrian of potential accoutrements for his lunch. He looked at me and smiled a boyish smile (no small feat for a nonagenarian) and with his eyes glistening said, “No Grey Poupon for me. I’m just a regular guy.” We both laughed out loud at that loaded statement. Judge George Lebherz may be just a regular guy, but this regular guy has led an extraordinary Falmouth life.
As a sea of humanity filed in and out of this Falmouth landmark, where generations of locals have contemplated, discussed and debated the issues of the day, George and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and plentiful conversation about the Falmouth of yesteryear and the names and places that shaped his life and our community. Joined by his son Chris, we traveled together over the course of several hours a journey that took us through several decades and through all of Falmouth’s villages.
Our conversation was like a recitation of Falmouth’s 20th century all-stars. George’s Falmouth history goes back to the early 20th century, when his family would visit their summer cottage across from the ball field in Falmouth Heights during his childhood. He played for the Falmouth All-Stars, the precursor to today’s Falmouth Commodores, in the early days of the Cape League. When he would occasionally hit one out of the park in right center field, the ball would roll into his own front yard, land that is now a parking lot behind the British Beer Company. He was a lifeguard at the Heights Beach in those days, as well. He spoke very affectionately of those early Falmouth memories, including a fond recollection of future Jake’s Tap proprietor Billy Soares as the batboy for the Jake’s team in the Falmouth town league, and vivid memories of his lifelong friend and legendary educator Ray Kenney playing for both the All-Stars and Jake’s alongside him, forming an unbreakable bond that would last throughout their interwoven lives.
After graduating from South High in Worcester in 1947, George spent a year at prep school, then headed to Colby College, where he served as captain of the track team, a distinction he also held in high school and prep school. He joined the Air Force and was pursuing training as a pilot when a serious car accident in November of 1952 left him with a lifelong leg injury that kept him from flying planes, but not from serving. He stayed in the Air Force until 1954 as a psychologist, which explains his penchant for understanding people and forging relationships, skills that are still razor sharp these decades later.
After graduating from Boston University Law School in 1958 (he didn’t miss the opportunity to chide me for being a BC Eagle), George decided a couple of years later to make his summer home his permanent home and settled in Falmouth around 1960. That’s when this local legend began building friendships and associations and leaving imprints on the systems and soul of our community that are still felt and seen today. When discussing his late wife, Charlotte, George’s face is still transformed to a transfixed youth, full of passion and pride. “She was beautiful, inside and out,” he declared. He’s right, by the way; Charlotte Lebherz was the glamorous glue that held him together.
After eschewing an offer from Bob Tilden and Ned DeWitt to work in their law practice, George partnered with Bill Munson, a bespectacled gentleman whose picture is displayed in my home office, as we were sworn in on the same day in 1993—he as a library trustee and I as a selectman, and their presence as fixtures in Town Hall Square began. They bought a building adjacent to what George still calls “John Ferreira’s building,” then housing Ferreira and Motta insurance, and for many years thereafter Lawrence and Motta, and today Hub International. They named the property “Old Bailey Court” after the world-renowned court in London, a name that still defines the property where Chris Lebherz still practices law today.
It was from that home base that George made a foray into local politics. He recited political veterans of a bygone era like he was reading them from the pages of a 1960s edition of Bill Hough’s dad’s Enterprise. He noted how John DeMello, a former selectman and father of a future sheriff, encouraged him to engage in local Democratic Party politics, and how restaurateur and local political tour de force Ted Sheehan encouraged him to challenge respected local Joe Martyna for the moderator’s position. He won that race and held that office for many years until his own protégé and appointee to the finance committee, Bob Marshall, assumed the job. Bob would relinquish in the late 1990s to our current moderator, David Vieira. David to this day considers George both a mentor and a friend.
That string of decades of local legislative leadership is just one example of how George’s commitment to good government in Falmouth has had a lasting impression. He appointed Eddie Marks to the finance committee, opening the door to Eddie’s storied stint as a selectman. He was a pal and confidant of Nate (Pete) Ellis, another former selectman who was profiled in this space recently. He hung out at Stone’s Barber Shop with Frank, Phil and Dickie Stone, discussing sports, politics, and business (he and Frank were two of the three in “Three Way” Liquors) and might have talked and shared his perspective on publishing with local character George (Duck Soup) Mather. He mingled at Democratic Town Committee meetings with Renato Tassinari and Harvey Clauson. He counted Lenny Beford and George Sharpe as friends. George’s Rolodex still twirls inside his masterful mind. His recollections are sharp and his memories are vivid. To walk through the late 20th century through the mind and the memory of George Lebherz is like a Technicolor documentary of how Falmouth was transformed from a sleepy summer town to a year-round community of consequence. He was there to see it all—and he remembers it all.
Governor Dukakis appointed George to the bench in 1990, and he served for a decade as a District Court judge until his mandatory retirement at age 70 in 2000. Think of that: Nearly 20 years ago he put down the gavel, but he still yields the pulpit at the Quarterdeck, teaching, sharing, and entertaining locals and visitors alike on his perspectives on his adopted hometown.
As our time together and our journey through Falmouth’s history neared its end, as if on cue and as a fitting and appropriate symbol of the impact that George Lebherz has had on our community, another Falmouth legend came into George’s “library” with a wide nearly nonagenarian smile and echoed some of the same anecdotes, as he and George have shared much of Falmouth’s political history over the last 60 years. Adrian (Andy) Dufresne, a former selectman, longtime beach committee and finance committee member, and for decades a fixture at the front of Town Meeting, joined our conversation, but I was more of an observer to the rich history created by and shared between these two. What a treat to soak in more than a century of their working, living and laughing in Falmouth.
As we departed and I walked back to my car, I knew that I had just witnessed another chapter in the long and successful life of George Lebherz. A sense of pride and gratitude filled my heart in knowing that the legendary life of Judge George Lebherz will always be part of our local history—and will be documented for future generations, thanks to this regular guy’s willingness to share an afternoon at the Quarterdeck.