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Christopher Kauders, role model for the sightless and sighted alike, dies at 65

‘He could see into people’s souls,’ a friend says

Christopher Kauders and Wally, the last of his five seeing-eye dogs, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of the Kauders family.
Christopher Kauders and Wally, the last of his five seeing-eye dogs, in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of the Kauders family.

The circumstances that Christopher Kauders encountered getting around every day made him a good listener and well-suited for his work as a lawyer and mediator guiding wary opponents to peaceful resolutions.

“Having to take a 92-pound German shepherd places he ordinarily would not go, I know there are face-saving ways for everyone to get what is needed,” said Mr. Kauders, who lived in Marblehead and was 65 when he died July 31 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Legally blind since birth, he made his way through Boston with a purposeful stride, a seeing-eye dog at his side, optimism in his heart. Not surprisingly, friends said, he listened carefully to the world around him and the words people spoke.

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“He could see into people’s souls,” said Paul Chernoff, a retired Superior Court justice who is now a mediator and arbitrator. “He was sight-impaired, but I think he could see better than many sighted people into problems.”

Rarely sick throughout his life, Mr. Kauders came down with a low-grade fever early in the pandemic. His family was worried it might have been COVID-19, but instead he was diagnosed with what turned out to be an aggressive case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Familiar to many in downtown Boston, he could be seen before the pandemic with his ever-present dog walking to his office, stopping at the University Club for a swim after work, and heading to South Station to hop on a bus or train.

“He’s the guy you thought would live to 90 or 100, not be struck with something that took him out so quickly,” said his wife, Lee.

“He was spontaneous and it was easy for him to laugh at just about anything,” said their daughter, Hannah. “He took everything in stride. Nothing was hard for him.”

That calm confidence drew clients to his firm, Pre-Trial Solutions, where for a quarter-century he helped people find paths to solve their legal differences without an acrimonious, expensive trial.

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His 90 percent success rate in mediation cases, he said, was due in part to setting ego aside.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people to realize that a mediator is doing a good job,” he told Boston College Law School Magazine in 1993 for an article about alternative dispute resolution, “because the parties think they’ve reached an agreement themselves.”

A son of Czechoslovakian immigrants and the youngest of three siblings, Christopher P. Kauders was born in Salem in 1956 and grew up in Marblehead.

His father, Erick Kauders, was a co-inventor of the projectile launching mechanism used in bazookas, and in Massachusetts he founded the manufacturer Craig Systems with his brother.

His mother, Frances Bergerova Kauders, was a law student in Czechoslovakia and was prominent in Greater Boston civic organizations, including the Retina Foundation.

Christopher and his sister, Dina, were born with retinitis pigmentosa, eye disorders that left them legally blind at birth.

After graduating from the Brooks School in North Andover, Mr. Kauders received a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, where he majored in political science.

Through high school, undergraduate work, and Boston College Law School, “he never learned to read Braille,” his wife said.

Instead, he used reading services and hired people to read textbooks to him while in law school. “He had quite a good memory because he wasn’t necessarily going to hear it twice,” Lee said.

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Mr. Kauders passed the bar exam on his first try. Before changing to mediation, he worked as an attorney at Bank of Boston, going to Boston College part time to graduate with a master’s in business administration.

He and Lee Stephens, who was then working for the Humphrey Browning MacDougall advertising firm, met at a mutual friend’s party in the South End.

After spending much of that evening talking to each other, their first date was at “a Red Sox game in a spring drizzle, which was a good excuse to hold hands,” she recalled.

They married in June 1985 and have one daughter, Hannah, a writer, translator, and educator who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“My dad and I had a very unique relationship because he was passionate about being a father, and he was a fabulous father,” she said.

And when they walked together in Newton, where the family lived when she was growing up, or in Boston, his hand was on her shoulder and his guide dog was at his other side.

“He was never too prideful to admit that we really needed each other’s help from the beginning,” she said. “We were exploring the world together from the time I was very young. I was probably 5 years old when he and I would go downtown together. He placed a lot of trust in me.”

Mr. Kauders also placed enormous trust in his guide dogs Sonya, Beecher, Rudy, Theo, and Wally, and had endless stories to tell about each.

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Leaving work with Rudy one evening in driving rain, Mr. Kauders could tell his dog was diverting from their course to South Station. Rudy led him into a cab instead.

His dog was more than a conjurer of great anecdotes, though. “He helped me raise my daughter,” Kauders told the Globe in 2005. “He helped me be a real part of my family.”

In recent years, Mr. Kauders sued Uber when drivers denied him service three times. Uber wanted to send the dispute to arbitration, per terms and conditions that app users agree to follow.

But the state Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled in January that the extensive contract a user clicks on to access an app can’t be used to force customers into arbitration. “The touchscreens of Internet contract law must reflect the touchstones of regular contract law,” the court ruled.

“I used to tell him all the time, ‘You know, they’re going to teach this the first year of law school, when they teach formation of contracts. It’s going to be called the Kauders case,’ ” said Paul Needham, a longtime friend who represented Mr. Kauders in the Uber lawsuit.

Mr. Kauders was “one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met,” and led his life with determined courage, Needham added.

“When you’d see him walking down the street, he’d stand ramrod straight,” Needham said. “He’d say, ‘I’m not going to be bent over. I’m going to be standing straight if I walk into a wall.’ "

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Among the organizations to whose boards Mr. Kauders belonged, his favorite was The Seeing Eye, based in New Jersey, the oldest organization “that breeds, raises, and trains dogs to guide blind people, and trains blind people in the use and care of those dogs,” said Jim Kutsch, the organization’s retired president and chief executive.

“In a very real sense, Chris was a role model,” said Kutsch, a longtime friend. “He just demonstrated by his life a sort of lifestyle evangelism: ‘Hey, a blind person is just like anybody else. He just doesn’t see as well as the next person.’ ”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Kauders leaves his brother, Andrew of Richmond, Va.

Those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are invited to attend a memorial service at 10 a.m. Aug. 27 in Old North Church in Marblehead.

Four days before Mr. Kauders died, Beth Israel allowed his family to bring Wally, his current dog, into the hospital “to say his last goodbye,” Hannah said.

“Wally spent the day lying on his bed at the foot of Dad’s recliner,” she said. “Dad remained pretty stoic over the last week, but he was in deep pain at the end of the day when he had to say goodbye to Wally. They loved each other so dearly.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.