Hundreds mourn Nick McGrath
August 26, 2002
It was both a home and an away game for Nick McGrath on Friday in the Basalt High School gym.
It was a home game, with the stands nearly full, as McGrath loved cheering on the Basalt Longhorns.
And it was an away game, as McGrath was being sent off by a host of fans, family, friends and colleagues from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
McGrath, who died on Aug. 16 of a heart attack at age 62, was a well-known and respected attorney in Aspen and was a dedicated if not fanatical booster of his two children’s high school sports teams in Basalt.
“It looks like a playoff basketball game, which is exactly how Nick would have wanted it,” said Werner Anderson, a veteran Basalt High teacher who led the service.
The memorial in the gym was filled with people from the two arenas in McGrath’s life where his dedication was obvious, the law and high school sports.
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“That man loved the law like nobody else,” said attorney Ron Austin, who hired McGrath when he first came to Aspen more than 30 years ago. “He was the damned finest lawyer I’ve ever met.”
Basalt High basketball coach Debbie Alcorta told of how McGrath would always come early to basketball games, tell her she would do a great job, and then go and get some popcorn.
“When he would walk in that gym, my nerves would calm,” she said.
To honor McGrath’s tireless work on behalf of local athletics, Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone announced at the service that the first field to be completed at the county’s new community center in El Jebel would be named “McGrath Field.”
“I know that Nick’s spirit will be in those fields,” Stone said.
And Nick’s spirit and his image were on the stage at the end of the gym when his son, Nicky, and family friend Matt Leek took the stage dressed in cowboy boots, suits and white cowboy hats, McGrath’s customary outfit.
Nicky, 20, said he would always remember his father coming to the gym, “seeing him in his big cowboy hats, sittin’ up in the bleachers. You know, you couldn’t miss him. He loved coming here so much.”
Eighteen-year-old Molly McGrath wore a soccer uniform to her father’s memorial. It was entirely appropriate given Nick McGrath’s incredible devotion to his daughter’s soccer career, which helped her be voted most valuable player on the Western Slope two years in a row and win a college scholarship.
Molly graduated in June from Basalt High, and her father had just dropped her off at Western Nebraska Community College when he died.
Showing incredible poise, Molly tried to lighten the mood in the gym by trying on one of her father’s goofy hats he wore to a game, by telling a funny story that illustrated his concern for the soccer team and by taking a quick picture of the crowd, as her father loved pictures.
Then, leaving nary a dry eye in the gym, her voice wavering just a touch, Molly said, “I’d just like to tell you guys that if you love somebody, let them know, because I never told him as much as I’d like and know he’s gone and I can’t. So, if you love someone, just let them know and tell them whenever you feel it.”
Molly and Nicky’s mother, Maggie, then told how McGrath never missed one of his son’s wrestling matches.
“The thing I will remember most about Nick is his incredible generosity,” she said. “Everything that he did, he did … for his children. He cherished them. They were his life.”
But before his children and their high school sports careers, McGrath’s passion was the law. He earned his law degree from Columbia University and served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before coming to Aspen to practice law.
He was known as an attorney with unquestioned integrity who was dedicated to detail.
“He stood for sound principles and high moral standards,” said Molly Campbell, who first met McGrath in 1970 when he moved in next door to her in Aspen. “He stood for kindness and fairness. He thought that winning was not as important as good judgment and treating your opponent honorably and the fair resolution of adversity. He stood for doing things right. He was meticulous in detail. He was passionate about causes he believed in.
“We have lost a friend, a father, a loyal and steadfast advocate, a counselor, a community leader, a cheerleader, a worthy opponent and a good and kind soul,” Campbell said.