• 92 years old
  • Born on July 17, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, United States.
  • Passed away on October 22, 2019 in Fallbrook, California, United States.
Hon. Lester E. Olson (just “Les” to all who knew and loved him) passed from this earth on October 22, 2019 at the age of 92.  Les died unexpectedly but peacefully at our home in Fallbrook, CA, leaving a huge hole in my life - and in the lives of all who were lucky enough to know him.

Les was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1927, the youngest of three children of Oscar and Agnes Olson. After graduating high school, he hitchhiked across the country for several months before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1945. World War II was drawing to a close, so he never saw active duty; he was stationed on Galveston Island, TX where he worked as a welder. After his military service, he followed his parents to Sacramento, CA where they built and operated a roadside motel. He attended Sacramento Junior College for two years and then transferred to Stanford University, where he completed his B.A. before entering their Law School.

Les distinguished himself at Stanford Law School, where his classmates included Sandra Day and her future husband John O’Connor. He told stories of all of them as starving law students, and stayed in touch with Justice O’Connor for the remainder of her life. Upon graduation in 1953, he moved to Los Angeles to join the law firm of Belcher, Henzie & Fargo. His many notable clients included John Wayne, Rory Calhoun, and former President of Mexico Miguel Alemand. Les eventually opened his own practice, Olson & Markey, with his good friend Christian Markey. Their firm would eventually become the powerhouse Munger, Tolles & Olson, but with a different Olson now on the masthead.

Les deeply loved the Law, but didn’t always love being a lawyer; so when offered the opportunity to join the bench, he leapt at it. He was appointed to the Court by outgoing California Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown in 1965. Les served the Los Angeles Superior Court with distinction for twenty years, presiding over numerous high-profile cases – most notably the legal malpractice suit of Doris Day v. Jerome Rosenthal. The trial has a whole chapter in her autobiography – look him up!

Due to his sterling reputation on the bench, upon his retirement in 1985 Les became one of the most sought-after private mediator/arbitrators in Los Angeles, and enjoyed another twenty-year career as a “Rent-a-Judge.” He loved mediation and dispute resolution - often likening it to being a car salesman, shuttling back & forth between the parties. His cases included more high-profile characters, including Johnny Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and John DeLorean.

In addition to the Law, Les loved the outdoors. He was an avid skier and backpacker for many years, forging lifelong friendships in the Saga Ski Club. He also loved construction, and working with his hands; he remodeled several of his houses by himself, and was always building something in his state-of-the art woodshop. His motto was “Never use a nail when a screw will do better.”

Les also loved his dogs. He was never without one or two dogs in the house, or sometimes three, and their pictures line the walls of his office and fill countless photo albums. They were spoiled and pampered without apology. Above all, he loved me, and I’m so grateful to have shared over half my life with him.

Les’ countless friends will remember his brilliant mind, his incredible generosity, his intolerance for bullshit, his great laugh, his enthusiasm for life… and his many, many stories. How that man loved to tell stories. I hope you all will share some of your favorites here.
Patrick

Posted by Saxon Holt on December 6, 2019
I knew Les only for a few years but cherish the memory of how genuinely welcome he made me feel when I visited the garden. I felt like a friend immediately and will miss the chance to enlarge that connection. Namasté.
Posted by Michael Pettit on December 6, 2019
I visited Les at his home in Fallbrook earlier this year, and we did what we usually did in person and in many telephone calls: We reminisced about interesting times in our lives and particularly old court cases we were in trial on together in Los Angeles County Superior Court, him the Judge, and me his court reporter.

For 45 years he was in my life as a good friend, a mentor and a teacher. I was his court reporter from 1975 until his retirement from Court in 1985. We used to meet in the Los Angeles Riverbed (The Arroyo in Pasadena) virtually every day at 6:00 a.m. to walk our dogs before going to work. 

He was a very well respected Judge; and it was somewhat surprising to me when he offered to help me and my friend Don Hector build our tiny house in Mariposa, California, near Yosemite National Park. His Honor drove up there and spent several days going up and down ladders, helping with the framing and other carpentry necessary to build the structure, including the roof. 

I will never forget his many, many kindnesses, nor his willingness and eagerness to always be available to help me make important business and personal decisions. All of his friends and I are missing him terribly.
Posted by Mark Liebenow on December 3, 2019
Perhaps because of our common roots in the Midwest and both ending up in California, or because we were spouses of college friends, Les welcomed me into his home like an old friend whenever we came to visit. It was like staying for a few days in the luxury and comfort of a southern villa along the Pacific coast. A warm host, his smile, hugs, and humor will be missed.
Posted by Carol Brady Ames on December 2, 2019
Carl and I loved listening to Les's stories.....how he met Patrick, being an arbitrator, his beautiful gazebo he built larger than most.... I called him our big lovable teddy bear. We always looked forward to seeing him at the Fraternity House events. Sending prayers, love and hugs!!
Posted by Jim Butcher on December 2, 2019


There have been a handful of people in my life who I can honestly say I was honored to have known well.......Les is in that small group. I can only aspire to the level of character and kindness that he presented so effortlessly. His selfless and wise counsel will be missed. I can only hope the example he set for the rest of us will have a lasting effect so that those he touched will carry his energy forward to impact others. The world is a little less bright without Les Olson.



Posted by Michael Lawson on December 2, 2019
Though I did not know Les for long, he was always very cordial towards me and always engaged in conversation. I was deeply saddened upon hearing of the passing of Les. Les was deeply cherished by those who were friends with him. Patrick, as you know, you are in my prayers. Love to you as you continue the journey that you and Les began.
Posted by Althea Miller on December 1, 2019
His brilliant legal mind -- he never forgot the nitty-gritty details of a case; his wonderful laugh; his outrage at the current political climate; his intense love of Patrick; his love of his dogs; his pride in his home and garden that he always gave Patrick full credit for; his passion for life -- these are but a few of the attributes that made the man Les Olson.
I always told him that my only regret in life was not having met him sooner. 
Les, I will miss you forever.
Posted by Rob Hodges on December 1, 2019
Dear Patrick, we were both so saddened and surprised to learn of your dear Les's passing. You both were (will always be) so perfectly paired in our minds and hearts. Prayers for strength and light and hope as you grieve. Sending hugs and hope to see you before too long. 
Posted by Ernie Castro on November 30, 2019
Dear Patrick, we spent some good times in conversation with Les. Just to hug him and say hi. was sometimes enough. He was loved by many of our group and like you , he was supportive of Fraternity House. He will be missed. our prayers for him and for you to have the strength to carry on.. Hugs
Mike and Ernie..
Posted by Mary Dralle on November 30, 2019
I was blessed to have been able to spend time with Les and Patrick in their home over many wonderful dinners. Les was so very kind to me whether it was in their home, at an singing/opera event or fundraisers for Fraternity House fundraisers. 

One time, Les was speaking of Patrick and there was such love in his eyes. It warmed my heart to listen to him.

While he may have crossed over to non-physical, his spirit lives on in all of us whom he has touched.
Posted by Debra Lee Baldwin on November 30, 2019
I was pleasantly acquainted with Les for 20 years. I knew him mainly as the supportive, jovial, quietly strong man who competed Patrick. Les had a delicious sense of irony. He'd make what seemed a casual observation, then let its import sink in. For example, he mildly observed that I had outed him. (I referred to him as Patrick's "life partner" in an article I wrote about the garden for the U-T, back in the '90s.) He observed my reaction (Oh, geez, what had I done? Was it OK?) and laughed.
Posted by Leslie Duval on November 30, 2019
Julian was hired as the 1st director of the Quail Botanical Gardens in 1995. We were still reeling from the trauma of moving to our new home from the midwest when we met Patrick and Les. Les immediately made me feel special. We were seated next to each other at a dinner (at Roxy's?) and he started out by including me into a very special "club" of people named "Les". Leslie in my case, but I can still hear him say "my name is Les too" and still feel the acceptance and warmth coming from this handsome stranger with his compelling voice, laugh, and smiling eyes. Les was a man who never knew a stranger... everyone was his friend and he will be sorely missed.
Posted by David Meyer on November 29, 2019
For Kim and me, Les was a friend in two different but overlapping areas of our lives—the world of law and the world of music. We met so many years ago at a choir party that Patrick hosted when we were young lawyers and fellow singers with Patrick. I recognized Les as the judge who had previously held a client in contempt (properly so!). He was very far from my stereotyped image of distant and somewhat arrogant judges—no trace of “robitis” there. I remember his gracious and genuine interest in our backgrounds and lives, both professional and personal. 
His gracious and generous spirit became even more evident over the years. He was unfailingly interested in and supportive of our family as well as our careers. The support was far more than casual. One of our fond family memories is spending a week in Patrick and Les’s house on a week-long family vacation with several young kids. Les (and Patrick!) were genuinely happy to entrust their beautiful house to a family with two pre-school children to allow us to experience a wonderful family time. 
Professionally, it was always a joy to talk with Les about career developments, get his advice and insight, chat about mutual professional relationships, and hear about his own remarkable career. I particularly remember an encouraging call many years ago after my small firm announced a merger with a much larger one, when Les (correctly) emphasized the opportunities that would result. That call—and the interest he showed—really helped to lessen the apprehension of a young lawyer making a big move.
Most recently, we were so appreciative when Les made the trip up to L.A. for a big birthday celebration for Kim. Even though the travel was not easy, he made the effort to share in our celebration and again offer his encouragement, support and friendship. 
He was a remarkable person, a generous spirit and a good friend. We will miss him a great deal. 

Dave & Kim Meyer
Posted by Jo Casterline on November 26, 2019
I was always a little worried about how I would talk to Les but when I got up my courage I found how friendly and easy he was to be with. I know how hard it is to lose your loved one and my heart goes out to Patrick
Posted by Catherine Hodges on November 25, 2019
It was our loss not to have known Les, though you've captured him so vividly in your tribute that Rob and I both feel we did and do. Thank you for that gift, and much love to you, Patrick.
Posted by Dwayne Olson on November 25, 2019
Patrick,
Hopefully you have already received the letter that I sent to you. In looking at the pictures I can really see my likeness in Uncle Lester. We both even have the same type of beard. I really am going to miss him and wish I could have had a chance to visit with you both the last couple of years. Rarely get to Southern California and he was always off doing something else. But if traveling in that area will try to come by and visit with you just to share memories.
Posted by Elizabeth Baron on November 25, 2019
As an attorney and later a judge I was in awe of Les. His firm grasp of the law, writing ability, and judicial temperament were highly admired and respected among his judicial colleagues. He was a warrior on behalf of judges as he fought and won a great battle against state government which had wrongfully withheld judicial pay raises. Most of all I loved Les's love of his dogs. We shared more hours of conversation about our dogs than we did about law. He listened for hours about my trail rides and introduced me by email to his great horseman friend, Matthew Midgett, who rides and photographs the trails of New Mexico. Thus, Les was not only a great friend and colleague, but brought another great friend into my life. I miss Les every day and I know how truly grateful he was for the loving care that Patrick gave him in his later years. Rest in peace, Les, knowing you lived a well loved and admired life.
Posted by Tom Logan on November 24, 2019
Kay & I were so very surprised and saddened with the news of Les's passing. When Patrick first introduced us to Les at their home, I immediately felt so entirely comfortable in his presence. He was so welcoming, so kind, so warm, so intelligent, so fun and interesting to be around. We haven't been down to Fallbrook very often over the past few years, so we haven't had many occasions to spend time with Les, but whenever we did, we treasured those experiences. 
Posted by Dick Meyers on November 24, 2019
I will miss our beloved Les terribly. Les and I have been close friends since around 1960, shortly after I immigrated to America from South Africa almost 60 years ago. My husband, Allyn Rifkin, was added to this friendship when Allyn entered my life in 1996. 

Over the years Les and I exchanged emails often, daily and sometimes several times a day.

When Patrick and Les first met, naturally Les shared his excitement with me and we celebrated his joy. I remember his excitement as if it were yesterday.

Patrick, Allyn’s and my thoughts will always be with you, especially, when we also think of our beloved Les.
Posted by David Manning on November 24, 2019
I have known Les for a long time, but didn't really know him well. What I did know of him, was that he was generous, kind, smart, and loved Patrick dearly. He loved his dogs and his home, but I think Patrick won (hands down) in the "love" department. Les always made me feel welcome and a part of the family. He was dignified, loyal and professional. He never put on airs or made one feel less accomplished than himself. Les, my friend, you will be missed. Patrick will be well taken care of - he will see to that. Missing you already. 
Posted by Therese Holladay on November 24, 2019
Les was an intelligent, funny, articulate, humble, and loving man. He had an engaging personality particularly at the breakfast table in the Fallbrook house where I have been blessed to be a house guest from time to time. With at least three newspapers and usually the New Yorker magazine on the table, hours of conversation could ensue. Les gave good insight into all things "law and justice" as well as many other subjects. One time, I listened to his interpretation of the impeachment process as he had first hand knowledge of that process from years ago. I remember laughing as he slipped the dogs little treats from the jar on the counter when no one was looking. He loved them so much. Next time I visit my good friend Patrick, I hope to again sit at the kitchen table watching birds at the feeder, reading the paper and remembering a great man who shared much of himself with others, and giving thanks for the opportunity to have known him. Rest in eternal peace Les.
Posted by Dan Heims on November 24, 2019
What sad news... To know him was to like him. A fine man... :(.
Posted by Celia Levy on November 24, 2019
It was my honor to know Les and to be able to spend a little time in his home and enjoy his hospitality together with Patrick
He was such a gracious host due to our connection with Patrick who has traveled with us on our garden tours- we were always so sad that he could not join us but Les enjoyed the trips vicarously through Patrick.
What a kind man
R.I.P
Celia Levy
Posted by Peter De Francesco on November 24, 2019
My first contact with Les was at a Rakes & Blades garden club meeting out in Jamul, CA. Everybody was crowding around Patrick as he identified each raffle plant by its latin name. Everybody except Les and Me. We hung out in the shade under an eaves, watched the spectacle unfold and had a delightful conversation about travel in Italy. At this point, I thought he must be Italian as he looked a lot like an Uncle of mine. He said he was by his mother and kept that gag going for years until he fessed-up that his ancestry was actually Scandinavian. I explained how my grandfather’s Italian name was Anglicized and I wanted to change it back to the Italian spelling. Les suggested I go for it and file the name change with the court in San Diego. I was impressed with how much legal-ease he knew. He never let on that he was a superior court judge or Patrick’s partner. 20 years later over one of several lunches in Fallbrook, I broached the subject again and obtained the paperwork. Les walked me through the name change steps, reviewed, filled- in the blanks and I filed it with the court. It saved a poor scientist some $ and I have him to thank for restoring my family name to the original spelling. I think about him every day.
Posted by Patrick Anderson on November 24, 2019
Les was a fervent supporter of Fraternity House, Inc., a local nonprofit HIV/AIDS service organization where I have volunteered for over 20 years. To honor his generosity, a special endowment fund has been established in his name. If you would like to make a gift to honor his memory, donations may be sent to:
Fraternity House, Inc.
Lester Olson Memorial Endowment
20702 Elfin Forest Road
Escondido, CA 92029
Posted by Lisa Lipsey on November 23, 2019
I first met Les via a Fraternity House fundraiser. He told a joke and had the whole table in stitches. He became a friend and mentor (as he has been to many). Many years later he officiated my wedding. We loved to share an ice cream sundae or Nutella (don’t tell Patrick!) Les always encouraged me in my work and school. He would advise me with the seriousness of a judge but he was really a big teddy bear. I enjoyed him cooking me his famous beef stroganoff. I’ve always said in my next life, I am coming back as one of Patrick and Les’ dogs. I mean it. Les, I picture you hanging out with all the dogs you have loved and that makes my heart glad. You are dearly missed.
Posted by Lisa Lipsey on November 23, 2019
As told to me by Les’ dear friend Jim Rabe :
“I remember back in Los Angeles days, when Les was hosting a BBQ for friends. He had an outdoor built in grill. He made a big plate of hamburger patties and set them by the grill, then went inside. The dogs ate bites out of each raw burger. I can still hear Les saying, ‘effen dogs’. He reformed the hamburger into smaller patties and served them to, oh I don’t know how many people. Really, it was funny.”

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