Joseph Sheeks was a Pearl Harbor veteran who went into law following the war and through a productive, 50-year career co-founded the Petaluma Valley Hospital Foundation and served as the mayor of Mill Valley and a director of the Golden Gate Bridge District.
A well-read, well-traveled and reliably well-dressed man, Sheeks died Jan. 10 at a Petaluma assisted-living residence. He was 96.
“He read history and he was interested always in ideas,” said his wife of 47 years, Burney Sheeks. “He had the best vocabulary of anyone I have ever spoken to.
“And I tell you this: I love the fact he washed his own socks.”
Sheeks practiced law mostly in San Rafael and for a time was a partner of Bill Bagley, the former California Assemblyman. He did a great deal of work in the healthcare field and was key to the creation of the Association of California Hospital Districts.
Sheeks grew up in Valparaiso, Ind., and in 1940 joined the U.S. Navy rather than run the risk of being drafted into the Army. He was assigned to the destroyer USS Monaghan as a communications officer.
At Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Monaghan quickly went underway, fired upon attacking Japanese planes and rammed and sank a midget submarine.
Sheeks later compiled his wartime journal into memoirs he titled, “Shady Lady: My Experiences on a Fighting Ship.” He recalled standing on the deck amid “the rattle of machine gun fire and the angry spang of bullets close by.”
He served until 1947 and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander. Following his discharge he resumed his pursuit of a career as an attorney, earning a law degree at the University of Chicago.
He worked for a time for Industrial Indemnity Insurance Co. before he opened a practice in Marin County with Bagley and a second partner.
He was elected the mayor of Mill Valley in the 1960s and served on the board of the Golden Gate Bridge District from 1968 to 1970.