Not long after I started practicing, a colleague asked me where I saw myself in five years. That’s a fairly standard interview question, but frankly one I hadn’t given much thought to at the time. Seeing I was stumped, my colleague tried to help by suggesting that I consider how I wanted to be remembered. As the years passed, I realized I was content to be remembered as Nancy Comey’s son. I’ve always admired my mom for many reasons (her work ethic, humility, sense of humor) but most of all for the love she has for her family and her willingness to always put her family first. What a way to be remembered, I thought! I was reminded of that story when I sat down to write this tribute to Judge Sam Pendino for his retirement.
Judge Pendino has lived a remarkable life. Born and raised in West Tampa to Italian immigrants, he watched his father, a first-generation American, labor as a carpenter in the shipyards here in Ybor City to support his family. Growing up as the son of a blue-collar worker in a house where little English was spoken, Judge Pendino realized education was the key to making a better life for himself. That led him on a journey from Stetson University in DeLand to the Cumberland School of Law, where he earned his law degree. Afterwards, he spent nearly two decades in practice until he was elevated to the bench, first as a county court judge and later as a circuit court judge. Becoming a circuit court judge in the same city where you were raised by first-generation immigrant parents is quite an accomplishment.
But when you talk to people about what is important to Judge Pendino, none of them mention his professional accomplishments — becoming a judge, presiding over interesting and noteworthy cases, or making important rulings that have affected people’s lives and shaped the law. Instead, they talk about his work ethic and how much he values education. Most of all, though, they talk about how important his family is to him.
Despite all of the demands of being a lawyer and serving on the bench, Judge Pendino has always made a point to put his family first. Along the way, he raised three children — Krista, Sam, and Lydia — who have undoubtedly made their father proud. All three have taken heed of the importance he put on education. Both Krista and Sam graduated from law school. Lydia earned a degree in nursing from the University of South Florida. And if you asked them, I’m sure they’d tell you about how much it has meant to them that their dad always put family first.
As I sit here, I wonder how Judge Pendino would have answered the question “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” when he was a young lawyer. How would he have wanted to be remembered when his career was over? My guess is it would have had something to do with being a good father. People who know him say Judge Pendino has long recognized the truth of what well-known journalist Charles Kuralt once observed: “The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege.” I’m confident nobody will be writing a tribute about me when I retire, but if somebody does, I hope I’d be remembered the same way Judge Pendino is.