By Harry Rudolph’s son, James P. Rudolph, Esq.My father, Harry Joseph Rudolph, passed away on Wednesday, May 27th 2009. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York , where he had what he thought was the best job imaginable: bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He spent almost every day at Ebbets Field, doing what he loved. Not only that, he rubbed shoulders with some of baseball’s greats: Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider, among others.
Those were heady and exciting days for him.
But somehow he knew in his heart it wouldn’t last. And he was right. The Dodgers moved to California , a place so far away, so full of legend and opportunity that the idea of moving was planted and soon began to germinate. He would eventually meet my mother, get married and drive all the way to...Florida. That’s right. In truth, he wanted to move to Florida and have the good life, soaking up the sun. There was only one problem: my mom experienced the suffocating and sapping humidity of Florida and resolved never to move there. If Dad wanted to move, fine, but she would have no part of it.
Thus, my father, exercising the sine qua non of marriage--compromise--agreed to drive to San Diego instead. Upon arrival in downtown San Diego in 1959, he was crestfallen. The place, he thought to himself, was a sleepy Navy town. He didn’t know what he’d do. But he was determined not to fall victim to despair.
He saw on a map a place marked La Jolla , which appeared to be located on the beach. He accosted a pedestrian and asked, in all seriousness and with a New York accent, where he could find “La Jawla.” After receiving directions and a lesson in Spanish pronunciation from the nice man, he and my mom drove up the coast to La Jolla. It was, as they described it, love at first sight. The beautiful and stunning grandeur of the Pacific Ocean; the friendly, small-town atmosphere; and, above all, the temperate weather convinced them that this was the place they’d both been looking for.
They never looked back.
My dad opened Harry’s Coffee Shop in 1960 and operated it until 2005, at which point he sold it to my siblings Harry, John and Liz. The place, it goes without saying, is a La Jolla landmark, an institution, a gathering spot in which families and friends meet and laugh and talk and eat. My father’s generosity and amiability were palpable, and customers knew they were in good hands the moment they saw my dad walking up and down asking every man, woman and child how the food was, how the family was, etc.
Customer service was in his blood. And, naturally enough, it was in our blood, too. We all worked in different capacities: the girls as waitresses and hostesses and the boys as bus boys or short-order cooks. With nine children, my dad not only had his hands full; he also had his very own baseball team.
But even the best baseball manager senses when it’s time to move on. After 45 years of walking the floor, greeting customers and running the business, my dad decided to retire. His retirement, though, was not as we would have liked. Suffering the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” he sustained injuries after a fall, and unfortunately never walked again. It was heartbreaking to see such a proud, strong and independent man confined to a wheelchair and a bed. However, as he was inclined to do, he made the best of it and carried on with as much dignity as the situation allowed. He visited and received friends when possible and also was witness to two of the happiest days of my life: my graduation from law school and my wedding.
In the end, perhaps giving in to the “heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” he passed away, for all we know, in peace and comfort.
My dad was a generous and loving man. His two great institutions--Harry’s Coffee Shop and the Rudolph family--will never be the same without him and his bright personality. But we will proudly carry into the future his memory and spirit, thus guaranteeing him a certain amount of immortality and permanence.
Rest in peace Dad.