By Peggy Carroll
There are those who remember Cliff Starrett as a lawyer. He rose in his firm to managing partner and was counsel for a case dear to the hearts of librarians throughout the nation.
There are those who remember him for his passion for history and the role in played in the Washington Association and for his work in preserving and beautifying the Morristown Green.
There are others who recall him as a civic leader, serving on the board of the Evergreen Cemetery and the Morristown Club.
And yes, there are the people who smilingly talk about all the Sundays he took part in a curious, not to mention exhausting, sport.
But there are a greater number who will remember him mostly as a friend – a perfect gentleman, a man of wit and wisdom, a man who always had the right aphorism to fit the occasion, who always had a hand to help a new colleague or a worthy cause.
All of these – family, colleagues and friends– will gather at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to share their stories and pay tribute to one of Morristown’s elder statesmen.
Starrett died on July 30, 2016, at his home. He was 88.
Clifford Wadsworth Starrett, according to his obituary, was born in Brooklyn on March 18, 1928, and attended local schools. He went on to an Ivy League college and to law school. But his father, he told friends, “never had to pay a dime” for his education.
That’s because he joined the Army right after high school and the GI Bill paid for college. He chose Princeton. And Princeton chose him. “I recall getting some kind of test,” he said with a mischievous grin. “My superior officer and I sat down and did it.”
True story or not, he did well. He was accepted into Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs and received a degree in 1951. Then he was among the first recipients of the Root Tilden Scholarship Award at New York University’s School of Law.
So there were no tuition bills from either Princeton or NYU.
There was another Princeton benefit. His roommate was Stephen Wiley. They formed a friendship that was to last until Wiley’s death last year. And they were friends to Morristown, which both called home.
“Morristown would not be what it is today if it were not for Cliff and Steve,” says Carl Badenhausen, who knew and worked with both on community projects, from the cemetery to the Green.
And they taught the new generations along the way.
Starrett, Badenhausen said, was known for his willingness to help his younger colleagues. “I have met so many lawyers who tell me how great a mentor Cliff was,” he said. “He hired them for his firm – and helped them succeed.”
He also nurtured new volunteers.
While he was working with him on Green fund-raising, Badenhausen remembers, Starrett called him daily. It was on-the-job training. Starrett, a veteran Trustee of the Green, was guiding Badenhausen, one of the younger ones.
A LIFE IN LAW
Edward W. Ahart, a partner at Schenck, Price Smith and King, where Starrett was an attorney and managing partner, agrees that Starrett was a great teacher and a role model.
“Cliff was a mentor, an inspiring and important member of the community and a friend whom I admired deeply,” he said.
He described Starrett as an attorney that others aspired to be, one admired for “his legal ability and for the way he carried himself, ever the smart, ethical and polite professional.”
When the firm was going through a difficult time in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Starrett “stepped up to be our leader and Managing Partner,” Ahart said.
“He was the only person who had the stature in the legal and Morris County community to do what had to be done, and no surprise, he fulfilled his position well, always with intelligence and grace,” he said.
Starrett was sought by knowledgeable clients – he was counsel to Morristown Memorial Hospital – and his advice was solicited by outside professionals.
During his tenure, the firm grew in the number of attorneys and partners, went through a major facilities renovation and retained its standing as one of the area’s leading firms.
Starrett retired in 1991 after 36 years. In his honor, his portrait hangs in the Starrett Conference Room in Florham Park
Perhaps the case that Morristown remembers best is that involving the man the New York Times called “the most noteworthy and litigious homeless citizen of Morristown.”
In 1991, Richard Kreimer sued the Morristown police department and several government officials, alleging harassment. The town responded by paying him $150,000 to drop the suit.
He then trained his legal guns on the Morristown & Morris Township Library. By evicting him – at least five times — for disturbing patrons with his offensive body odor, his loud and belligerent voice, and by staring at and following people around — the library violated his first amendment rights to use a public institution, Kreimer contended.
Federal Judge H. Lee Sorokin agreed — holding that some portions of the library’s rules were discriminatory.
“If we wish to shield our eyes and noses from the homeless,” he wrote, “ we should revoke their condition, not their library cards.”
The decision dismayed local librarians, and alarmed their counterparts who anxiously watched the litigation from across the country.
Maria Norton, recently retired library director, remembers what happened next.
Starrett, the Library’s legal counsel for many years, became what Norton calls “crucial” to the outcome. He filed an appeal that turned the case around. The three-judge federal appeals court not only upheld the library policies, Norton said, “but set a precedent for all public institutions.”
Starrett was a “trusted friend and advisor,” she said, “and he served us well. He will be missed.”
(It should be noted that despite strong opposition from the library board, Travelers, the library’s insurance company, reached a settlement with Kreimer for $80,000 three weeks before the Appellate Court ruling.)
A PASSION FOR HISTORY
His legal partners say Starrett always reminded them that their professional and ethical commitments extended into the “fabric of the Morristown area.” It was a policy he followed himself. He was an active member of the Morristown Club for almost 50 years, and a past president. He also served on the board of the Evergreen Cemetery.
But his special passion was the history of Morristown, particularly its rich Revolutionary War heritage. For many years, he was a trustee of the Washington Association of New Jersey and was twice president.
He spearheaded efforts for the new wing expansion and rehabilitation of the galleries at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum. For his service, he was the recipient of the Association’s Award of Achievement for meritorious service
And then there was his work for the Morristown Green.
He was treasurer of the Trustees of the Morristown Green for 28 years, said Trustee Secretary Alice Cutler, who was a friend to him and his wife, Mimi, for 30 years.
Cutler recalls the day in January 2002, when the Morristown National Historical Park marked with ceremony the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s arrival in Morristown with his 3,000 troops.
A re-enactor played the role of Washington. He rode a white horse into town where he was greeted Jacob Arnold, owner of Arnold’s Tavern, the General’s first Morristown headquarters.
“Cliff was thrilled,” she said.
Starrett played the part of Jacob Arnold.
Cutler and Glenn Coutts, president of the Trustees, talked of the work Starrett did to help beautify and preserve the Green and bring its history alive. He worked, for example, with the Deskovick family, who donated the fountain and statue called “Patriot’s Farewell.”
And Starrett was, Coutts says, a “work horse” during the “Green Vision” project, the campaign 10 years ago to raise $4.5 million to renovate, beautify and endow the Green to ensure its future.
Starrett worked with Steve Wiley and Coutts, Cutler said, to raise the money. “He spent endless hours writing grants and reached out to numerous friends for financial support,” Cutler said.
He accompanied Coutts as they scouted the county for more of the purple-flecked puddingstone to build the new 56-foot park bench.
And he drove with frequency to the EIS sculpture studios in Brooklyn to check on the progress of the three new statues – Washington, Lafayette and Hamilton– a group known as “The Alliance” that now grace the park.
Those statues were the first of the heroes of the Revolution on the Green, and were his particular interest.
Fittingly, he helped to unveil them when the Green was rededicated in October 2007.
He retired from the trustees in 2012.
MASTER OF THE HUNT
As his obituary notes, there were other sides to Clifford Starrett.
Like the Tewksbury Foot Bassets. This is a rather curious sport with elements of the fox hunt.
A pack of hounds (and it’s always hounds, not dogs) are unleashed in an open area. Their job is to scare up a rabbit (not a fox). Hunt members, dressed in green (not red or pink) follow the hounds, not on horses but on foot. Hunters and hounds all chase the rabbit over the hills and the dales until all three – humans, hounds and rabbits – are exhausted.
It is usually followed, observers say, by a social time – a cup of tea or a cup of cheer.
For more than 50 years, his obituary says, Starrett, donned the hunt’s distinctive green jacket, and went running with hounds every Sunday of the season.
His was, in short, a life of commitment – to law, to history, to his community and yes, even to an unusual sport.
Perhaps most of all to Mimi Starrett, his wife of 62 years.
He is also survived by two nieces, Lauren Salani of Morganville and Rebecca Cosgrove of Locust; and a nephew, Neil Starrett of Victor, Wyo.