Death of a Classmate, John Dempsey "Doc" Raiford

Attorney at Hughes Research, John Dempsey Raiford, a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades who overcame an impoverished childhood to live a life filled with notable achievements, passed away on September 9 from cancer. He was 83. Born January 19, 1928 in Holly Springs, Mississippi to George Rayford and Minnie Mhoon, John was raised by his grandparents, Knowledge and Jessie Anne Mhoon. At age 13, he reasoned that to have a life other than toiling in the fields he had to leave Holly Springs and get an education. Answering a newspaper advertisement gave him the chance to go north with a job. He lived with relatives in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he attended high school and was on the school council. During this time he worked at the National Stockyards part-time. John enlisted in the Navy in 1946 and quickly impressed his commanding officer with his intelligence and work ethic. He studied Japanese, English, psychology, philosophy and trigonometry at night school while attending Yeoman's School in San Diego and the School of Naval Justice at Port Hueneme. In 1950, John was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, one of a handful of black midshipmen in the first years following two important steps towards racial equality in the U.S. military: the desegregation of the U.S. military in 1948 by Presidential Executive Order 9981 and AllNav 423 in 1949, which ordered comprehensive 'equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the Navy and Marine Corps without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.' He graduated from the Academy with the class of 1954, receiving a B.S. in electrical engineering. He then attended Cornell University Law School, where he received a bachelor of law degree in 1958. On a whim, John moved to Southern California in 1959-60, settling in Santa Monica, then Venice and finally Pacific Palisades. In 1966, he passed the California State Bar exam and also married Karen Suell Kiersgaard, a social worker with the Los Angeles County Family Court. Their daughter, Joan (Ginga) Mhoon Raiford, was born in 1968. John received his doctor of law degree from Cornell in 1969. In 1979 he became a registered patent attorney and in 1980 an attorney and counselor of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also a member of the Institute of Radio Engineers. He worked for Hughes Research in Malibu for more than 30 years before his retirement in 1993. Following retirement he practiced law and engaged in community service, including several years on the Pacific Palisades Civic League board. John was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica for half a century. All who knew John loved, respected and admired him. He had such special qualities, love of life, people, family and friends, and a basic respect for all he met, that everyone felt the warmth of his personality. John's wisdom, kindness and gentle nature will be long remembered. John was predeceased by his wife Karen in 2005, his daughter Joan Mhoon Raiford in 1983, his sister Mattie (Davis) Withers and his brother Knowledge Nathaniel Davis. He is survived by his daughter Stacy Raiford of Santa Monica and granddaughter Stacia Raiford-Ross of Las Vegas, Nevada, and by nieces Jacqueline (Davis) Coleman of Pikesville, Maryland, and Gwendolyn (Davis) Dandridge of Memphis, Tennessee. Funeral services will be held Monday, September 19 at Woodlawn Cemetery, 1847 14th Street in Santa Monica. Viewing will be from 10 to 11 a.m., followed by the service and burial. A memorial service will be held Sunday, October 2, at 2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, located at 1260 18th St. Donations can be made in John's name to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, Alabama 36104 (phone: (334) 956-8200.

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