Aspen legal community mourns McGrath
August 19, 2002
The Roaring Fork Valley lost its third well-known resident in three weeks with the death of Nick McGrath over the weekend.
McGrath, 62, died Saturday from a heart attack. The death of the ever-mobile valley resident came as a shock to many. Friends and business acquaintances recalled conversations with McGrath just last week.
“Fortunately, I was in bed listening to John C. Noonan [on KAJX] when I heard the news, so I didn’t fall down,” said Aspen City Clerk Kathryn Koch.
McGrath – a one-time mayoral candidate, soccer coach and ethical adviser – was a longtime Aspen attorney, representing everyone from Pitkin County to struggling ski hotels.
“Nick was the kind of guy you could write a TV series or movie on,” said Mick Ireland, McGrath’s former law clerk and a current Pitkin County commissioner. “He was tough, driven, a lawyer’s lawyer. He was soft and fuzzy inside, but he’d never let anyone know it – but everyone in town knew he was.”
As a student at the Columbia University School of Law, McGrath served on the board of editors for the Columbia Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude from the university in 1965 and went on to serve as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals.
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It was McGrath’s clerking career that supplied the most anecdotes, friends recall. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall – the first black justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court – chose McGrath to accompany him to Washington.
McGrath eventually became a member of the California and District of Columbia bar associations. He added Colorado to the list when he moved to the valley in 1970 and began work with local attorney Lennie Oates.
Local lodge owner Molly Campbell met McGrath shortly after his arrival in the Roaring Fork Valley when they became neighbors at Aspen’s Windfield Arms. The pair eventually worked together when McGrath took on representation of both Campbell’s hotel, The Gant, and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, for which Campbell serves as chairwoman.
Campbell said McGrath’s 20 years of representation with ACRA as well as a number of local businesses introduced him to a number of other attorneys and legal aides. McGrath helped craft Pitkin County’s home rule charter, among other documents.
“He was a great friend of Judge [J.E.] DeVilbiss and the entire legal community here in Aspen,” Campbell said. “I think the entire legal and business communities are back on their heels. Nick was tremendously important in the community.”
McGrath earned respect among his peers in the early 1980s when he became chairman of the Grievance Committee of the Colorado Supreme Court, an organization that monitors the actions of the state’s attorneys. He could be counted on for counseling with all ethical matters, Ireland recalled.
McGrath was familiar with most of Aspen, but he spent most of his time in Basalt. At one point, McGrath made a bid for mayor. An avid sports fan, McGrath helped Basalt establish a youth soccer club and raise necessary funding for a new city pool, Ireland said. He was also working to help Basalt raise money for a new recreation center.
McGrath was also well known throughout the valley for his children’s many sporting accomplishments. Nick Jr., 20, was a championship-caliber wrestler during his days at Basalt High School; Molly, now 18, made all-state lists for her soccer and basketball accomplishments.
McGrath was always quick to remind local newspapers of these feats – his multiple faxes to The Aspen Times during BHS sporting seasons often featured statistics as well as game commentary.
“He was the original soccer dad,” Ireland said. “He was a total devotee of his two kids. Contrary to the image of Mr. Litigation, he always had time for them.”
Campbell said McGrath’s friends may establish a fund that would benefit both Nick and Molly – Nick recently started his sophomore year at Mesa State University, while Molly is about to begin her freshman year at a small college in Nebraska.
Friends and family are currently planning a community memorial in McGrath’s honor. The group hopes to have a Basalt-based ceremony scheduled later this week.
[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]