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John Thirkield, longtime State Supreme Court law clerk, dies at 81

Respected attorney kept trying to retire, but it wouldn’t stick. A judge says courthouse colleagues will miss his “love of the law and tireless work ethic.”

Attorney John Thirkield, of South Jamesport, died on

Attorney John Thirkield, of South Jamesport, died on Jan. 22, 2018. Photo Credit: Thirkield family

Attorney John Thirkield just couldn’t stay retired.

His daughter-in-law, Ita Thirkield, remembered recently how she attended his first retirement party in 2002.

But the phone soon rang, and the veteran employee of State Supreme Court in Mineola went back to work.

It was a phenomenon family and courthouse colleagues said happened several times before Thirkield’s death on Jan. 22 – less than a month after he’d finished serving as principal law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Norman Janowitz.

“He would retire and then somebody from the courthouse needed him,” Ita Thirkield said.

At age 81, John Thirkield died of heart failure in his South Jamesport home, according to relatives.

The day before, he’d kept up with his usual weekend routine of bringing Sunday breakfast to the Mattituck home of Ita, 51, and her husband, Chris Thirkield – Thirkield’s youngest son.

The breakfasts were a way to come together for a weekly chat, where they’d catch up on family news and talk about what was happening at work.

John Thirkield always had something happening at work.

Being a lawyer “was his passion,” Chris Thirkield, 52, said of his father, whom he described as someone who knew how to make a decision without overanalyzing a problem.

He was someone who never wore the black robe of a judge but who took pleasure in being the person behind the scenes crafting answers to complicated questions, his son said.

John Thirkield once told his son Chris that as a law clerk and law secretary, “you basically make the decisions, but when the b.s. in the courtroom got too deep, you could leave the courtroom and the judge had to stay there.”

Besides serving as Janowitz’s principal law clerk, Thirkield filled the same role for six other judges, according to courthouse officials.

Kathryn Driscoll Hopkins, the chief clerk of the Mineola court – a job Thirkield also had held – said in a memo recalling his career that he devised practical approaches to dealing with the most complex legal matters.

She said Thirkield “commanded respect,” was “humble and kind” and “always got the job done.”

Nassau County Administrative Judge Thomas Adams in a statement called Thirkield “a brilliant attorney” and “extraordinary public servant,” adding that the legal community would miss the man’s “love of the law and tireless work ethic.”

Family said Thirkield was born in upstate New York, the only child of an attorney and a homemaker. He grew up in Queens, attending Xavier High School in Manhattan before earning a bachelor’s degree and then a law degree from St. John’s University, relatives said.

He and his wife, Katherine, a legal secretary and office manager who predeceased him in 2001, married in 1963 after meeting at the Manhattan law firm where they worked in the early 1960s, family said.

The couple lived for years in Floral Park, where they raised their two sons and Katherine spent part of her career working for the village, according to family.

The Thirkields also summered on the East End, years ago buying the home in South Jamesport where John Thirkield eventually relocated after his wife’s death.

Family held a private funeral Jan. 25 at Thomas F. Dalton Funeral Home in New Hyde Park after a wake a day earlier. Thirkield’s remains were cremated.

His survivors also include his eldest son, Neil Thirkield of Bay Shore, two granddaughters and a grandson.


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