March 24, 1920 – Jan. 29, 2017
Richard E. Moot was so intent on defending democracy in World War II that even before the United States entered the war, he wanted to join the Canadian Air Force, the fastest way to enter combat. His family persuaded him to join the U.S. Navy.
As a Navy signal officer, guiding pilots landing on aircraft carriers at night, he designed a flight suit with fluorescent stripes for the officers, to help the pilots. The “Moot Suit” soon became standard dress for landing signal officers, and Mr. Moot also won a Bronze Star during the war.
Later in life, Mr. Moot entered the political arena, offering a key endorsement that helped ensure the victory of Democrat Frank A. Sedita in a hotly contested race for mayor in 1969, after Mr. Moot had lost the Republican primary.
And as a longtime attorney in his native Buffalo, Mr. Moot argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and represented the Attica Correctional Facility superintendent in the long-running Attica civil trial in the early 1990s.
Mr. Moot, a practicing attorney in Buffalo for 62 years and a third-generation attorney in his family, died Sunday in his Cheektowaga patio home. He was 96.
Among his many accomplishments in the community, the man known to most people as “Rit” Moot also was a founding trustee of the Western New York Foundation, which has made thousands of grants totaling more than $11 million over the last 65 years.
“In all his endeavors, Rit was a tireless, colorful and outspoken competitor, a passionate defender of his clients and causes, and a tough taskmaster ... while at the same time extremely generous and supportive,” said Christopher T. Greene, a longtime law partner in the firm now called Barclay Damon. “You always knew where you stood with Rit; there was no ambiguity.”
A Buffalo native, Mr. Moot graduated from Nichols School in 1938, before earning degrees from Harvard College, the U.S. Naval Academy Postgraduate School of Aeronautical Engineering and the University of Virginia Law School.
After enlisting in the Navy and working as a landing signal officer in the Pacific Theater, Mr. Moot survived several harrowing incidents while guiding planes onto the deck of the USS Intrepid. Lt. Moot once spotted a Japanese kamikaze coming straight at him. The incoming fire missed him, but the plane crashed through the flight deck, starting a huge fire in the hangar deck. Mr. Moot quickly wielded a hose to cool down the live ammunition.
Was he afraid?
“You had no time for that,” he replied in a 2012 Buffalo News profile.
After the war, in 1949, he joined his father Welles V. Moot’s law firm, Moot & Sprague, before leaving four years later to join the U.S. attorney’s office, where he became a first assistant U.S. attorney. Mr. Moot left that office in 1957, when he joined the precursor to Damon Morey, remaining with that firm almost the whole time until he retired in 2011 at age 91. In his last years there, he concentrated on elder law.
As an attorney Mr. Moot continued a family tradition dating to the 19th century, following the career path of his father and his grandfather, Adelbert, who began practicing law in 1877.
One of Mr. Moot’s top accomplishments was successfully arguing the case of Bethlehem Steel Corp. employees before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s, helping win $121 million worth of health care and life insurance for some 20,000 company employees. Earlier, he had argued another case before the Supreme Court while representing the Bell Aerospace Co. in 1974.
But Mr. Moot probably was best known for his long-running role in the stormy, contentious Attica civil trial, when he represented prison Superintendent Vincent Mancusi. One reporter called Mr. Moot a “feisty little bulldog,” and family members recalled his nickname of “Mad Dog Moot.”
“He was fair but tough,” said one of his sons, John. “He didn’t back down.”
In 1969, Mr. Moot, considered a moderate Republican, sought the GOP nomination for mayor as an independent. After he lost to the more conservative Alfreda W. Slominski in the primary, he opted to cross party lines and endorse Sedita, the incumbent Democrat, in the general election.
“The future of the city must always come before the welfare of any local political party,” he told the Buffalo Evening News. “The magnitude and importance of urban problems today far outweigh the hackneyed call to party loyalty of the past.”
As John Moot said of his father, “He was a Rockefeller Republican through and through, very progressive on social issues, very conservative on economic issues.”
Among his many other community contributions, accomplishments and hobbies, Mr. Moot was a devoted supporter of both the Western New York Foundation and the Buffalo Urban League; a 50-year member of the Buffalo Yacht Club and an avid sailor who still went out solo on his beloved boat, Soubrette, into his early 80s; a longtime trustee of Nichols School; a lifelong member of Trinity Episcopal Church; and a fellow of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers.
Even in his last days, Mr. Moot enjoyed his time with the Rascals Lunch Club, over his very dry Plymouth martinis, straight up with a twist.
Mr. Moot was preceded in death by his wife of almost 67 years, the former Barbara Spence, who died last April.
Surviving are four sons, David, Michael, John and Andrew; five grandchildren; and one sister, Mary Buerger.
A memorial service will be held in Trinity Episcopal Church at a later date.