Pedro Rubio Hernandez, Jr. was born into a simple life in the back room of his grandmother’s restaurant in Del Rio, Texas on July 18, 1941. The Honorable Judge Pedro R. Hernandez left his life of service on November 22, 2020.
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They say life is in the dash between the years, 1941-2020. Pedro led an amazing life. He touched the hearts of many people. He may not have remembered your name, but he always remembered your face. He made friends with so many people and was recognized wherever he went not only in Billings, but in his travels.
His family moved to Hardin when Pedro was 7 and were greeted by a very rare July snowstorm. His parents called him “Junior.” A teacher reprimanded him for writing “Junior” at the top of his schoolwork, that was when he found out his name was really Pedro. When he wasn’t in school, he worked in the fields. He often talked about the meals his mother prepared for the hands...if you didn’t get in line fast, you may not get fed.
In 1962, Pedro enlisted in the Air Force. He reached the rank of Staff Sargent by the time he left the Air Force in 1966. He joined Billings Police Department in 1970. He and his partner Clark Price rode motorcycles and Pedro loved to joke that he and Clark were the first CHiPs, Montana style. Clark credits Pedro with saving his life. Called to end a disturbance at a downtown bar, Clark didn’t see a man coming at him with a knife. As if from a television script, Pedro threw a punch over Clark’s shoulder and knocked the would-be assailant out cold. They were true partners. From there he served as a probation officer from 1972 to 1975.
Pedro was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1975. He served an incredible 42 years on the bench. He holds the distinction of being the longest standing judge in the state of Montana. Being a judge was his life and his passion. He was an imposing figure at 6 foot 2. When he put that robe on, he seemed intimidating, until you realized he wanted you to get your life right and never appear before him again. He would always try to give someone a second chance to follow the straight and narrow. Many times, he was thanked for putting someone’s family member in jail and helping them see the error of their ways.
His greatest joy was the myriad weddings he performed, many of them were third generation. While he was a civil servant, he was a man of enormous faith, and he brought that to every ceremony whether it be out loud or in a quiet prayer for the couple. Countless times, people would approach him in public saying, “you married my (fill in the blank!).” He loved those moments because he truly was a man of the people. Daily he prayed for the souls of his enemies. That was just who he was.
Outside of work, Pedro had special passions, like riding his Harley, with the chrome Hog on the front and the PUERCO license plate. If you knew him, you heard him play the harmonica from time, to time, and time again. Many a lady have had a gentle kiss on the back of the hand.
He and his wife, Debby, retired from Yellowstone County in 2017 to a life of puttering around the house, tending their huge yard, and loving on their dogs. They enjoyed frequent travels to Las Vegas, and their all-time favorite, Disney World.
There is so much to tell of his storied life. He received many awards and recognitions both in the community and in the justice system, including induction into both the Billings and Montana Bowling Halls of Fame. There just aren’t enough words to define the “dash.” If you knew him, you are a part of his life and have your own story and place in that dash.
Pedro is survived by his wife Debby, son Alejandro, and brother Demetrio (Dino). He was preceded by his parents, Pedro and Guadalupe Hernandez, sister Soledad, and brothers Benjamin and Pilar. He also leaves behind a huge extended family who call him uncle, cousin, Papi, Debro, and friend. Pedro R. Hernandez, Jr. was a simple man with a heart of gold. There is a hole in our hearts. Those who knew him and love him consider themselves better for having him in their lives. He was everybody’s Pedro. Adios and Vaya con Dios, friend. Until we meet again.
If you wish to honor Pedro, consider volunteering an hour of time or make a contribution to Billings Food Bank, Salvation Army, or the Boys and Girls Club.
In this Covid world, a large funeral simply isn’t possible or responsible. There will be an escort to the Veteran’s Cemetery in Laurel for a 1 pm interment on Friday. The brief service at the cemetery will be presented live on Facebook at Pedro Hernandez Memorial Page. If you wish to honor Pedro, you may either watch the 1 pm service or watch the processional across the Rims at Noon on Friday. The route is planned from Smith’s Funeral Chapel on south 27th, across the Rims, down Zimmerman and Shiloh Roads to the Interstate.