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Remembering Tom Huster

Resident died when tree fell in Rossmoor

By Sam Richards, Ann Peterson and Mike Wood

Staff writers

 

One of the things Tom Huster loved was dancing. He and his wife, Sunhi Kim, had taken dance lessons for several years, and had gone out dancing two nights in a row the weekend before Tom died.

“If there was music playing in the grocery store and you asked if he wanted to dance, he’d say, ‘I’m in,’ ” his daughter, Beth Roens, said last week. “We want people to remember (Tom) for his sheer love of life, for his vitality.”

Huster, a 79-year-old Rossmoor resident who was wrapping up a 50-plus-year career as an attorney, was killed March 21 when a large eucalyptus tree fell onto the moving car in which he was a passenger, following an entire day of continued heavy rains and wind.

The accident occurred around 7 p.m. on Stanley Dollar Drive, near the first tee of Dollar Ranch Golf Course and adjacent to Tice Creek. Huster and Kim had just finished dinner at Creekside Grill and were on their way to Safeway to buy some ice cream when the eucalyptus fell across the roadway and onto the white Tesla as the car was rolling toward Rossmoor Parkway, according to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (ConFire). Winds in Rossmoor that night reached speeds of 30 mph.

Roens said her father died instantly. Kim, who was driving and inches away from Huster, sustained only minor injuries and was able to exit the car on her own after the accident, according to ConFire. Firefighters had to extricate Huster’s body.

Huster was a native of New York state and attended law school at Brown University and at the University of Michigan. Roens said he lived in New York, New Jersey and Colorado, among other places, before moving to San Francisco in 1970.

Jeffrey Shopoff, a San Francisco attorney for more than 50 years, said last week that he and Huster had worked together in the same law firm early on. Huster later formed his own firm, and for the past 20 years or so he had been the sole principal. In recent years, Huster specialized in trust and estate litigation.

Huster also was an effective attorney in the courtroom, Shopoff said. Roens added that in the mid-1970s,  her father had helped bring lawsuits against the maker of the infamous Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine contraceptive with a design flaw that helped cause septic infections and other complications, injuring and even killing their users.

“He was one of the most informed people about what was going on in the world; he knew the issues,” said Shopoff, who worked with Huster on a number of legal cases over the years long after Huster left their firm. “He was also a skeptic, a very helpful quality in the courtroom.”

Huster, whose daughter said he embraced “hippie ideals,” chose to start his own firm because he wanted to spend more time with his kids than corporate law life allowed, she said.

Huster enjoyed the outdoors, Roens said, perhaps to the extreme. “Two or three times, we dropped him off by the side of the road with a knapsack and a stick, and he would be out there for a long time – two or three months one time,” Roens said.

Those long solo adventures went against the grain of what many people knew Huster for – his gregariousness. Huster was active with the Men’s Golf Club, and Kim with the Women’s 18-Hole Club (the 18ers).

Daisy SooHoo, an 18ers board member, said she grew to be close friends with both Huster and Kim, and that they would often golf together on Sundays. The friendship came easily once the couple moved to Rossmoor in October 2020 from San Francisco.

Upbeat and personable, Huster was always in search of fun things to do, said SooHoo, adding that he would attend any dancing event here that he could, regardless of which club was putting it on.

“He always wanted to do something,” SooHoo said. “He was very social, and very appreciative of friendship.”

Mark Heptig, Rossmoor’s director of golf, described the two as a “wonderful couple.”

“(Huster) would always tell you that she had the golf talent, and that he simply played to be with his friends,” Heptig said last week.

Roens backed that up, saying her dad was proud of Kim’s golfing ability.

Heptig said Huster and Kim went on a couple of Rossmoor golf trips and were part of a 172-person group that went to Cabo San Lucas in late February. During one dinner event on the trip, the couple sat with Heptig’s family. The couple told about how they met, and about their respective backgrounds.

“One of the neat things was, when the music started, they were obviously very much in love. You could see that in the way that they socialized with others and the way they danced together,” Heptig said. “They were a loving couple.”

Huster had been a good athlete all his life and in the mid- to late-1970s was a ranked player in the Northern California Squash Racquets Association, Shopoff said. He played, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and elsewhere, into his early 70s.

Roens said her father was also a softball player who played for many years with all-gay teams in San Francisco leagues notorious for their competitiveness. And when the AIDS crisis ravaged San Francisco in the early 1980s, Roens said, Huster was cited by the Bar Association of San Francisco for his pro-bono work helping the surviving partners of AIDS victims.

Huster had only recently started to end his law practice, which moved from a San Francisco office to his Rossmoor home in December. “We’d start to wind down, and then he’d take three or four new cases,” Roens said. “I think he was struggling with whether he wanted to retire. He loved law.”

He loved Rossmoor, too, especially the social aspects. “He was very happy about making the move to Rossmoor,”  Shopoff said. “He was delighted to be there.”

SooHoo received a Nixle alert that Tuesday evening about the accident, and naturally hoped it was no one she knew. She grew concerned after trying to call Kim, whom she says always answers right away.

Heptig said that when he learned of Huster’s death, “it was just crushing to hear who it was … two people who are so much a part of the golf community.

“Seeing that was very difficult, knowing what happened there, being aware that something so tragic happened when, literally as we know, a second or two (differently), you would have had a completely different outcome. The randomness of it … life is so fragile. Something like this hits you because it is so random.”

There were plans for a big party in May, when Huster was to turn 80. That will now be a celebration of life event, Roens said. She envisions one service in Rossmoor, probably on a weekend in late May, and a second gathering in San Francisco.

Huster would have wanted to attend himself, his daughter said. “He would love everyone asking about what he used to do,” she said. “He’d be in heaven.”

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