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Michael Riordan was born in Dooks, County Kerry, Ireland and emigrated to San Francisco at the age of eighteen. His first job was helping to clean up the rubble of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, followed by railroad construction work in the Mojave desert. He later worked for an uncle, Michael, who ran a small grocery in the outer Mission District. He married Mollie Mahoney, a childhood friend from Kilorglin, County Kerry and they had four children.
He joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1913 as a patrolman after ranking fifth on the department's entrance exam. Thereafter he placed first or second on every promotional list and was made captain in 1925. He took leave from the department during World War I and become a sergeant major of the 55th Engineers.
Riordan earned a master's degree in law and became the department's legal advisor, drafting many sections of the Police Code. In 1940 he was appointed deputy chief and in September, 1947 he was appointed Chief. At the start of his tenure, he denounced conditions at the old Hall of Justice on Kearney Street as, "...a monument to the last century's treatment of the accused."
His tenure lasted until a new mayor took office. After serving as chief, he became a lawyer with partner James C. Purcell and was appointed assistant attorney general for the State of California and supervised law enforcement for that office. He was president of the Federation of Municipal employees and the United Irish Societies, served on the national board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He also served as the Grand Marshall in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. In 1935 he was elected a director of the first San Francisco Bank, as well as the Dooks Country Club where he caddied as a lad.
- Obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, (December 5, 1967)
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