Wherever he went, state Supreme Court Justice William L. Underwood Jr. made friends and became involved in his community.
The lifelong Patchogue resident served in the village's fire department, which named him an honorary chief. He also was a commissioner of the Davis Park Fire District on Fire Island, joined the Patchogue Rotary and sat on the advisory board of Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center.
And when he bought a farm in upstate Hillsdale, he supported that community's fire department, too, his son Paul Underwood said.
“That was his thing,” Underwood, 62, of Patchogue, told Newsday. “What I learned most from him was the ability to talk to just about anyone, to be gracious and kind to anyone [and show] good manners. He was a dignified and honorable guy and always acted with great humility.”
William L. Underwood Jr., who served more than three decades on the State Supreme Court before he retired in 2004, died Tuesday at Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue. He was 94.
His son said Underwood died from double pneumonia and heart disease.
The elder Underwood received his law degree in 1950 from Brooklyn Law School and was admitted to the New York bar in 1952.
During his long legal career, he was a lawyer in the Navy judge advocate general’s office in Annapolis, Maryland, a Patchogue justice of the peace, a Suffolk County District Court judge and a lawyer for the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, the precursor to the county legislature. He was elected to the state bench in 1972 and reelected 14 years later.
When not on the bench, Underwood sailed his Narrasketuck sailboat out of the Wet Pants Sailing Association in Sayville, ice skated in Patchogue, and went skiing and snowmobiling upstate.
Legal colleagues sang Underwood's praises — as a jurist and as a person.
“He was like a second father," acting state Supreme Court Justice James Hudson, who clerked under Underwood, told Newsday. "He [had] all of the qualities that went into making not just a great jurist, but a great man," adding Underwood "guided me to become a better lawyer and a better judge. I wouldn’t have the robes right now if not for Judge Underwood.”
Patchogue Village Attorney Brian Egan, another former Underwood clerk, said his former boss "taught me to be humble, proud of where you lived, and that you owed it to your neighbors to be engaged in your community."
In addition to his son Paul, Underwood is survived by his wife of 62 years, Barbara Hattemer Underwood, of Patchogue; a sister, Carole Underwood Kennelly, of Bayport; two other sons, Philipp, also of Bayport and David, of Patchogue; a daughter, Barbara Russo, of Bellport, and 10 grandchildren.
Visiting hours will be held 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Sunday at Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at the Congregational Church in Patchogue, where Underwood worshipped and held leadership positions, his family said. His body will be cremated and interred at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Patchogue.