What I’ve Learned: Riley Beckett ’68
My maternal grandfather, Ernest John (E.J.) Sweetland, grew up in Carson City and was the son of a cobbler. He was an assayer and inventor of the Purolater car filter. He married an Irish nurse, Nellie Reilly, who worked in Ely. They had seven children, including my mother, Kathryn, and I was named for the Irish side of the family. My grandfather was a fighter by nature. He took General Motors all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court when they refused to pay him royalties on his oil filter patent. He won.
When my grandfather died, he left property in Glenbrook which was divided up among his surviving children, including my parents, Ted and Kathryn, who built their dream house in 1956. I attended Zephyr Cove Elementary School and later Bishop Manogue High School in Reno, graduating in 1964. I enrolled as an accounting major at Nevada, became involved in student government and lettered in boxing. My father was an All-American football player at the University of California, Berkeley (1930). I did not play football as I knew I could not compete with my father, so I chose boxing, a sport in which I really enjoyed and excelled.
I also belonged to the Sigma Nu fraternity, and at a joint social with the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, met my wife Jane ’68 (fashion merchandising). We dated through college—pinning as they called it in those days—and got engaged our senior year. As an accounting major, I most likely would have become a banker or CPA. However, my friends Ernie Maupin ’68 (accounting), Bob McQuaid ’68 (political science), Bill Cobb ’71 (economics) and I decided to apply to law school. I was accepted at the University of San Francisco School of Law where I eventually earned my juris doctorate in 1971. Jane joined me while I was in law school, living with me in San Francisco and working at Macy’s. We married after my first year of law school. As luck would have it, the year I completed law school was the only year that the California and Nevada bar exams were given at the same time. I passed both bars.
After law school, I returned to Reno where I worked for then Attorney General Robert List ’80H.A. (who later became governor). From there, I became general counsel for the Nevada Industrial Commission (which evolved into State Industrial Insurance System and now Employers). At the time, NIC held 86 percent of the Nevada market as a worker’s compensation carrier. I went into private practice in 1977, contracted with the state as outside counsel, and focused on worker’s compensation subrogation, helping the state recover costs from third parties. Over the years, my office has been involved with more than 10,000 personal injury worker’s compensation cases. For many years I was the only game in town regarding worker’s compensation subrogation and all of the trial attorneys dealt with me. Our cases involved products, medical malpractice and automobile injuries. Now I am going into the sunset, trying to retire from the firm. I am “of counsel,” but still assist with the larger cases.
My biggest and most memorable case involved representing University of Nevada professor John Rosecrance, who sustained serious injuries during an automobile accident while working on behalf of the University in Australia in 1988. The accident left Rosecrance severely disabled and ended his promising career as a gaming professor. I hired an Australian solicitor and barrister to handle the case, which was tried in Darwin, Australia, and later moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., where Rosecrance was transferred to receive additional medical care near his family. We eventually won a judgment against an Australian third-party insurer which, at the time, was one of the largest in Australia’s history.
During this time, my daughter Meesha attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, so Jane and I got to spend about a month with her. Also, another historic trial was underway in nearby Los Angeles—the O.J. Simpson trial. Jane spent the days watching the Simpson trial on television while I was in court.
What I have learned through representing people who have experienced traumatic personal injury is to be compassionate and sympathetic while working to help them as best I can within the system. I love the law. It is a great tool to help people, and that is my greatest reward. I also learned through boxing that, as an individual sport, there can only be one winner in the ring. I switched that competitiveness to the law where I can step into the legal arena and participate in legal jousting. It’s you or me, so let’s see who wins.
I owe a lot to the University as it helped me toward the right goals. I renewed my connection to the University when President Emeritus Joe Crowley asked me to serve on his Legislative Liaison Committee shortly after I went into private practice. As chair of The Mallory Foundation, I work with trustees Tom Cook and Ellen Shock to maintain the philanthropic legacy of Jean Mallory, who designated the University, among six entities, as a beneficiary. Jean was a client of mine and the primary heir of Marion Mallory Sr., who invented the “Mallory ignition” and held more than 200 automotive patents in the United States and Europe. The Mallory Foundation has supported many of the recent capital improvements on campus and the recent renovation of the emergency room at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center.
Maintaining close family ties are important to Jane and me. We are very close to our two daughters and their families. My eldest, Karintha (Kari) Karwoski ’94 (management), is married to a dentist, Doug, and has two children, Cole and Logan. Kari is the kind of person who you can toss into a room of strangers and she will leave knowing everyone. After college, she worked for Sen. Richard Bryan ’59 (prelegal) in Washington, D.C., as his scheduling secretary. She and her husband moved to San Francisco where she worked in public relations for Sam Singer. One of her clients was the San Francisco 49ers. Co-chairman John York really liked her so she now works for him scheduling VIPs in the owner’s box.
My youngest, Meesha Green, graduated from UCSB. She is a talented artist and married to Major John Green Jr., a Marine. He is being reassigned to Okinawa, Japan. They also have two children, Miley and J.R. Meesha worked in Italy restoring a fresco of St. John the Baptist in a cathedral. John became a Harrier Jump Jet pilot, one of the most difficult aircrafts to fly because it is capable of vertical and short takeoffs and landings. While in Japan, he will be an air controller on an aircraft carrier.
I encouraged my daughters and others to pursue vocations for which they have a passion. No one will do any good if they are not happy with what they are doing. And a little luck of the Irish—or luck of the Riley, as I like to say—can’t hurt either.
From a conversation in June with Crystal Parrish, director of foundation operations. Beckett, a 1968 accounting graduate, is the founding partner of his law firm Beckett, Yott, McCarty & Spann, Chtd. He served on the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation Board from 1997 to 2002. As chair of The Mallory Foundation, Beckett has helped support numerous campus projects including the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the Earthquake Engineering Structures expansion, and programs in business and engineering. Beckett received the 2011 Nevada Alumni Association’s University Service Award. He is married to Jane Beckett ’68 (fashion merchandising) and has two daughters and four grandchildren.