His formal title was New Jersey Superior Court Judge Charles Middlesworth Jr., but to his family and friends, he was just Sandy.

And to his family and friends, Sandy Middlesworth was one of the funniest, sharpest people they ever expect to meet.

"He was an absolute riot," said Judge Max Baker, a friend for 39 years and judicial colleague for 13. They met as young lawyers in Atlantic City - Middlesworth running Cape Atlantic Legal Services and Baker clerking for a judge - and were close until Middlesworth, of Ventnor, died in June. He was 67, and for years he fought a lung illness that made him retire in 2011.

But a courtroom is no comedy club, of course. Middlesworth's last job as a judge was in criminal court, where both personal freedom and public safety are on the line.

"So I'm not sure the people who came in front of him really knew how funny he was," Baker said. "But I am sure they knew how smart he was."

Judge Middlesworth had other titles. He was "ump" as a volunteer at Ventnor's Little League for years after his sons, Brady and Alex, were too old to play. After a day at work, the judge would take off his robe, head to Ventnor and pull on a mask to call balls and strikes.

"Sandy did a tremendous amount of umpiring - which is probably the thing people like to do the least," said his friend, Dan Smith, of Ventnor.

Dani Middlesworth, Sandy's wife, told him he should give up umpiring - and the free abuse that comes with it.

"He said, 'Dani, if they don't get an umpire, the kids can't play,'" she recalls.

And Sandy loved baseball, and he loved kids. Along with being a dad to his boys, his title was Pop to grandchildren Andrew and Mackenzie, and Uncle to six more kids.

His brother Bob - Sandy was the oldest of five - says that word, uncle, was a big one for his big brother. Because a kid saying "Uncle" was the only way a game of berdither ever ended.

Berdither may be a made-up word, but Sandy used it to entertain generations of kids. He'd sternly forbid them to say that word - which no kid would ever say anyway - and then egg them on into saying it. Then he'd be shocked when they did say it, and he'd punish them by tickling them. To make him stop, they had to say "Uncle."

Then the forbidding, the challenging, the daring and the tickling would start all over again - hundreds of times, over decades, his brother marvels.

"It shows you the kind of love he had for children and his sense of humor at the same time," Bob said.

A friend told Dani recently that "what she always remembers is Sandy telling jokes and me laughing."

And it was that way to the end. Even as he was dying, his family and friends said, Sandy kept them laughing.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237