John J. Courtney was a lawyer who, for much of his career, took the cases other attorneys wouldn't touch, because the payoff was too small or the chance of winning too unlikely.
"He was a real Don Quixote," recalled his widow, Kathleen Wojciechowski. "Someone would say they fell from a scaffold and the builder would say he didn't know why they were there . . . then it turned out the builder was also a subcontractor . . . he loved those cases."
Courtney, 74, died Saturday in his Aquebogue home after a long battle with emphysema and lung cancer. He went to St. John's University and earned his law degree at Brooklyn Law School, and interned with onetime Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan. He was an associate with Sharf, Mackell and Hellenbrand in Queens, then went on to private practice, also in Queens, mostly in personal injury cases.
"It was a real Queens Boulevard practice . . . half the time, he wouldn't charge his clients," his wife said.
Wojciechowski and Courtney had been a couple for 31 years, ever since they bumped into each other in the theater district in Manhattan, where she had gone to see "Evita."
"We met on St. Patrick's Day," she recalled. "I was divorcing a CEO and I had no money. He said, 'You better get a college degree.' He was always in my corner. He helped me raise my children."
They married last month, on June 23, in the dining room of their Aquebogue home. "He was worried I wouldn't get Social Security," Wojciechowski said.
The marriage was performed by Riverhead Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm, who knew Wojciechowski casually because of her work on several town committees over the years. "I didn't know him well," Wilhelm said. "I wish I did. He seemed like a very pleasant man."
Besides Wojciechowski, survivors include a stepdaughter, MaryJane Wojciechowski, of Aquebogue; a sister, Mary Courtney-Reichart of St. Louis; two nephews, William Courtney of Massachusetts and Peter Courtney of Virginia; and a niece, Christine Courtney of Long Beach, Calif.
Visitation is July 28 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the De Friest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck. Interment will be July 29 at the Long Island National Cemetery at Calverton, although the time has not yet been set. Following interment, the family will hold a reception at the Meetinghouse Creek Inn in Aquebogue.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent in Courtney's name to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island, c/o Mark Cox, director of development, the E. David Woycik Jr. Building, 70 Acorn Lane, Levittown, N.Y. 11756.