By Jill Cowan
10:18 PM PST, January 10, 2013
Walter Charamza, who served as Newport Beach's first fulltime city attorney in the 1950s, will be remembered at a celebration of his life later this month.
Charamza died Dec. 19 at home in Newport Beach, his wife of 68 years and two dogs by his side. He was 91.
Friends and family remembered Charamza as a respected man with a strong ethical bearing — a "true member of the greatest generation," as former Newport Beach City Manager Robert Shelton put it.
"He was a strong-willed dispenser of justice — firm and straight-shooting," he said.
Born on a small farm in South Dakota, Charamza flew a B-24 bomber in World War II, then attended Occidental College and earned a law degree from UC Berkeley.
Before serving as Newport Beach's city attorney from 1957 to 1964, Charamza worked as assistant city attorney in Glendale.
In 1964, then-Gov. Pat Brown appointed Charamza as a judge in municipal court. Later, Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Orange County Superior Court bench.
His daughter, Susan Powell, said her father was loving and funny. Powell, who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., also recalled the long hours that came with his job.
"I remember him coming home and studying at night, making sure he knew exactly what was going on the next day," she said.
After Charamza retired in the mid-1980s, she said, he and her mother, Thelma, bought a lake house in Alabama, where they spent half the year until settling permanently in Newport in 2001.
Charamza, Shelton said, always enjoyed the outdoors.
"He and I and others did a great deal of camping in the Southwestern desert," he said. "He was a delightful companion in outdoor activities. He liked to waterski in Newport Harbor, in the upper bay."
Ultimately, Shelton said, "the word dignity comes to mind. People admired and respected him."
Charamza is survived by his wife, Thelma; daughter Susan Powell; three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
The celebration of his life will be at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, at 4 p.m. Jan. 26.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Charamza's honor be made to charity.