Chief Judge of the Hopi Tribal Court

Robert H. Piestewa Ames, ’51, JD ’54

May 2024

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In high school, Bob Ames knew nothing about Stanford. But a teacher’s suggestion that he look into it led to a future of leadership and unwavering loyalty to his alma mater.

Robert AmesPhoto: Kyle Ames Owen, ’10

Robert H. Piestewa Ames, ’51, JD ’54, the first Native American graduate of Stanford Law School, a former chief judge of the Hopi Tribal Court, and the first member of the Hopi Tribe to become a lawyer, died December 5, 2023. He was 94. 

Ames was born on February 26, 1929, in Winslow, Ariz., adjacent to Hopi and Navajo tribal lands. Although Ames had his step-father’s surname, the townspeople knew he was Hopi. Some of them looked down on him, says his daughter Lauren Ames, ’83. “Growing up, his life was not easy.”

At Stanford, he played shortstop on the baseball team and joined Theta Chi, finding acceptance in a sea of World War II veterans who had served alongside men of varying ethnicities. “They looked at this guy, and it didn’t matter,” says Lauren. “He was a good athlete. He was a funny guy. [They said] ‘I want him on my team. I want him in my fraternity.’ ” He met his future wife, Emmy (Badger, ’57, MA ’58), during law school; they married in 1958 and settled in Salinas, Calif.

In 1963, in a trial that made international news, Ames successfully defended the driver of a bus that had collided with a train in the Salinas Valley. The accident killed 32 agricultural workers who had come from Mexico under the Bracero Program, established by the U.S. government in 1942 to address labor shortages during World War II. 

For 20 years, starting in the 1970s, Ames regularly traveled from Salinas to northeastern Arizona to serve as chief judge of the Hopi Tribal Court, after the tribe’s elders asked for his help. He led with a reverence for Hopi culture and customs, and, says Emmy, “that was very important to him—that, if possible, something could be solved using their traditional ways.” 

Ames loved Stanford sports and for many years had season tickets to men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and baseball. He was a mentor at Stanford’s Native American Cultural Center and was inducted into the Multicultural Alumni Hall of Fame in 2004. He served on the Stanford Athletic Board, the Stanford Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, and the Stanford Associates Board of Governors. In 2011, Ames was awarded the Stanford Medal—only the 16th ever bestowed—for his decades of leadership and volunteer service to the university. 

In addition to Emmy and Lauren, Ames’s survivors include daughters Leslie Owen and Kristen; three grandchildren, including Kyle Owen, ’10; and two great-grandchildren.

Christine Foster is a writer in Connecticut. Email her at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

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