Issue: November/December 2010
Leading Lawyers: Robert Valerian
Partner, Taft Stettinius & Hollister
Robert Valerian has been lucky enough to hold his dream job three times. As a boy, Valerian was a plane nut, building models and dreaming of becoming a pilot. After pursing ROTC at Georgetown University, he went into active duty, flying 109 combat missions in the Vietnam War. He retired as a well-decorated U.S. Air Force Reserve major and went back to law school at Case Western Reserve University. He has been trying real estate, construction, civil and aviation cases for 34 years. More recently, he’s worked as the coach of the St. Ignatius men’s rowing team.
⊲ Making waves:
Valerian, president of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, has worked hard to purchase property on the Cuyahoga River as a home for rowing in Cleveland. A deal was struck recently that will develop 1,200 feet of riverfront into a 2-acre park and boathouse known as Rivergate Park. “There will be canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, public meeting areas. It connects up with the Towpath Trail,” he says. “It took two years and almost $3 million to buy this place.”
“Our objective is to get people back to river awareness and get them to enjoy the Cuyahoga,” he says.
⊲ New Year’s tradition:
“I go out every year on New Year’s Day to go rowing,” he says. “Once you start moving it doesn’t matter what the outside temperature is. The river never freezes at this part.”
Valerian grew up in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood and attended Murray Hill School. As a lawyer, Valerian represented the man who turned his elementary school into condominiums when he had a conflict with the developers.
⊲ Déjà vu:
“The first time I went to a meeting at the condos, I walked into one of the units and said, ‘If I seem a little nervous, it’s because the room we are sitting in used to be my fifth-grade math class with … the scariest teacher in Murray Hill School.’ ”
⊲ In his nature:
“When I was growing up, people would tell me, ‘You should be a lawyer.’ I was always glib. I was in debate and drama in high school.”
When he started law school, he went from being an Air Force pilot to a security guard in the stables at Thistledown racetrack to earn money.
⊲ Greatest career success:
“I’ve gone out and had a drink with the opposing counsel for every case I’ve ever tried and maintained good relationships,” Valerian says. “You can be a tough and successful lawyer without being a scorched-earth litigator.”
⊲ Still flying high:
“You’ve heard of OPM: Other People’s Money? Well, I fly OPA: Other People’s Airplanes. I get out whenever I can.”
⊲ Brush with greatness:
Valerian’s granddaughter went to school with Sasha Obama in Hyde Park in Chicago before the Obamas moved to the White House. On grandparents’ day, he and his wife were working on an art project next to Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson. “My wife leaned over and jabbed me in the ribs and said, ‘You stole her green crayon!’ ” Valerian recalls. “So that was my brush with greatness: I stole Mrs. Robinson’s green crayon.”
⊲ Washington aspirations:
“Before the inauguration, President Obama told my granddaughter’s class, ‘If any of you are in Washington, make sure to stop by the White House and visit.’ One of these days, I’m going to pick up my granddaughter and say, ‘We’re going to Washington to visit President Obama and Sasha.’ ”
⊲ What’s next:
“I keep threatening my wife that as a retirement job, I’m going to buy an old jet and become a barnstormer at air shows.” — SF
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