|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JANUARY 2011|
Richard Rizk Skis Through the Rough Stuff
By Janine Robben
When Mount Hood’s venerable Cascade Ski Club found itself in trouble in 2005, it recruited the son of an Egyptian-born OB-GYN — who had learned to ski on landfills in flatland Illinois — to help.
And when the club found itself in even greater trouble in 2006, when it was sued by the operators of Mount Hood Ski Bowl, it relied on that same person, lawyer Richard Rizk.
Its apparently quirky choice paid off.
“Rich pretty much guaranteed the club’s future for the next 50 or 100 years by resolving this lawsuit,” says Rizk’s law school colleague and skiing associate Tim Farrell.
In fact, Rizk is an excellent skier and is still heavily involved with ski-related activities: earlier this winter he received the Safety Person of the Year Award from the Far West Ski Association, which covers 13 states and has over 51,000 members.
“Rich is one of those guys with balance,” continues Farrell, who practices maritime law in Hood River. “You work, you play.”
Rizk attributes this attitude to his father, the Egyptian-born OB-GYN.
“My dad was an adventurer,” he says. “He took us all over the world. He was fearless.”
In the early 1960s, Mahfouz Rizk moved his family, including toddler son Richard, now 48, from the United States to what was then British Guiana.
“I learned to swim with piranhas,” recalls Rizk of his early childhood in the country on the north coast of South America now known as Guyana, where his father worked as a physician for an American company.
“It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” Rizk explains about the swimming. “My father really did treat people who’d been eaten up by piranhas, but they had to have had cuts when they went in the water.”
“One time,” he continues, “a boa constrictor stalked me in our front yard. It was one and one-half feet from me. My memories of it are foggy, frankly, but I’m used to traveling, and have loved adventure from way back when.”
In 1966, Rizk’s family moved back to the United States.
“Dad got us all into skiing,” Rizk says of their new life in the Midwest. “We took a trip to Colorado in the mid-’70s; before that, it was landfills in Illinois and small hills in southern Wisconsin.”
When he was only 13, Rizk left home for a military school in Indiana, 80 miles away from the family home in Kankakee, Ill.
“My home school district didn’t implement Brown v. Board of Education until the ’70s,” says Rizk. “It (the district’s desegregation) was a rough situation; there was lots of turmoil.”
“Going to a military school wasn’t that common in the Midwest,” says Rizk, “and winters in Northern Indiana are very, very cold: we’d stand in ranks at dawn, freezing. I wasn’t that thrilled about military school, but it is a very good school; I even know a few people in Oregon who graduated from there.”
When Rizk graduated in 1981, he took those cold Midwest winters into consideration in making his plans for college.
“’81 was the last recession,” he says. “It was a hiccup compared to what we’re experiencing now, but it was a hard business time, and everyone seemed to be going to the Sun Belt. At Southern Methodist University (SMU, in Dallas, Texas), it was at least 70 degrees all the time: I said, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
At SMU, Rizk recalls, “I met a guy who had started a new club, the Undergraduate Law Society, and the next thing I knew, I was its president. We sponsored speakers, including Stanley Kaplan and F. Lee Bailey. And we had a judge who spoke on driving under the influence while he was ripped, slurring his words.”
Rizk also was SMU’s school photographer and chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Committee of the SMU Program Council.
But despite his involvement in these activities, by his senior year Rizk was more than ready to get out of SMU.
“I didn’t fit in in Texas,” he says. “Kids who went there had Porsches, and I had a red, ’73 Vega that I bought from a friend for $300. Then I saw a poster that said that SMU had a program in Austria. I went there the last semester of my senior year and lived there for seven months. It was great, and I got to be a pretty good skier. I didn’t even show up for my graduation (at SMU); my mom and my uncle flew over and we toured Europe together.”
Then, says Rizk, a friend said, “You’ve got to check out Portland.’ So I came to Portland and said, ‘Gosh, it looks exactly like Salzburg.’”
“As much as I didn’t fit in in Dallas,” he says, “I really fit in here (in Portland). I skied, worked and went to law school.”
Rizk graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in 1988. He then worked for SAIF and a Portland law firm before becoming legal counsel to Nationwide Insurance in Beaverton, where he litigated injury and disability claims for six years.
“I traveled all over the state,” Rizk says of that job. “One time I flew into Bend and drove down to Burns, where the hearing was going to be held, just to discover that it had been cancelled without notice. On the way back, I drove into stampeding cattle. I shifted into reverse as fast as I could. I couldn’t believe it: I had gone to law school and was going to die because of stampeding cattle. But they parted like the Red Sea.”
Then after four additional years as an environmental claims supervisor for Nationwide in Chicago, Rizk returned to Oregon to work with other law firms before opening his own practice in Beaverton in 2001. Last year, he relocated to southwest Portland, where his firm handles insurance, disability, personal injury and property claims.
Meanwhile, he had joined the Cascade Ski Club, which had been founded by Norwegian ski jumpers in 1928.
“One of our members invented the releasable binding,” says Rizk. “There’s a lift at (Mount Hood) Ski Bowl that’s named after us.”
But the club also had a darker history: a prior president, Don Schuster, had embezzled from it and had been convicted with the help of his successor.
“They wanted new blood,” says Rizk. “I joined, and the next thing I knew, I was president.”
“Rich is a very passionate guy,” says Shari Parshall, a Portland export agent who was in charge of the Northwest Ski Council while Rizk was president of Cascade, one of the council’s 34 member clubs. “Cascade was pretty much in the doldrums. As president, he worked very hard; he was a dynamic person who became involved and got it up and running again.”
But doing so required more than dealing with the fallout from the embezzlement.
In 2006, the corporation that for decades had leased from the club the Multopor property, where part of Mount Hood Ski Bowl is located, filed a quiet title action against the club concerning that property.
“There was a lot of politics,” says Rizk. “A lot of people with a lot of money thought little Cascade was in its way. Property values were soaring in Government Camp at that time, and we had prime property. My whole tenure as president was dealing with this lawsuit.”
While the ski club no longer owns the Ski Bowl Multopor property, its members clearly feel that the confidential settlement that resolved the case in 2007 was beneficial to them.
“As a result of the settlement, the mortgage on the Cascade Ski Club property, which has a three-story lodge on it, was paid off,” says Salem attorney John Unfred, a member who represented the club in the lawsuit.
“It was amazing to me that, without having previously being involved in the club, Rich was willing to step up and do so much for us,” says Larry Romick, a Portland-area home remodeler who succeeded Rizk as Cascade Ski Club’s president. “He did a great job and brought us to resolution.”
Unfred says that Rizk also was instrumental in seeing that the club’s lodge —a three-story, youth hostel-like bunkhouse with separate dorms for men, women, even snorers — became fully utilized.
“Rich helped set up an electronic reservations and payment system,” says Unfred. “It’s $12 a night for (adult) members, with a warm breakfast available (for a separate charge). It’s a really interesting place; a nice secret.”
To Rizk, who gives the credit for the online booking system to the club’s current president, promoting the lodge as convenient, low-cost housing for skiers was obvious.
“People are not going to give up skiing in a bad economy,” he maintains. “They’re just going to find a cheaper way to do it.”
Earlier this winter, Rizk earned the Aspen-sponsored Far West Ski Association’s 2010 Safety Person of the Year award for developing a winter safety speaker-awareness series that addressed winter driving and other issues. (He also promotes safety in his law practice.) He also attended a 17-sesson back-country ski-safety course that included avalanche training.
“Our relationship with Ski Bowl is now very good,” he says of Cascade. “I don’t ski as much as I used to — now I work a lot — but when I do, I ski Mount Hood Meadows and Ski Bowl: Ski Bowl is Cascade’s home.”
In connection with the award, Rizk received a free week of skiing at Aspen, but he sounds just as happy to ski at home.
“La Nina brings wet, cold weather,” Rizk says of the current weather pattern. “This year is going to be great skiing. Last year was terrible. But even when it’s terrible, it’s great!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janine Robben is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2011 Janine Robben