Rock Hill mourned the loss Thursday of Robert L. "Bob" McFadden, a respected former judge and state legislator known for a gentle, soft-spoken style.
McFadden died early Thursday morning at Piedmont Medical Center. He was 81.
Before becoming a judge in the 16th Circuit, McFadden served as a state legislator from 1961 to 1980, including a stint as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He kept a law office in Rock Hill for many years.
"Robert McFadden was not just a super judge, a super legislator - he was a super guy," said Rock Hill lawyer Thomas F. McDow. "A truly great man who cared most of all about the dignity of the courts."
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McFadden suffered a stroke in August but had shown progress toward a recovery, said Phyllis Barrett, a longtime friend and former court reporter.
"I visited with him Tuesday afternoon," Barrett said.
"He was still very sharp and witty. I'm sort of in shock about it."
Loved to cook, play cards
At a 1991 retirement ceremony at the Rock Hill Country Club, McFadden sat in his trademark pose - arms crossed firmly over his chest - and listened as colleagues praised his distinguished service.
"To talk to you all about Judge McFadden is like talking to Noah about how bad the flood was," said Circuit Court Judge John Hayes, the former state senator from Rock Hill who succeeded McFadden in the state House and on the bench.
McFadden presided over an era of modernization in the courts and helped write home-rule legislation to shift power to local governments, said state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, a young state House member at the time.
"When the history of progress in the court system is written, the name of Bob McFadden will be written large," Toal said Thursday from a meeting in Washington, D.C.
"His enduring legacy is that he was a very, very progressive thinker about modernizing state government. He was one of the giants."
When he wasn't practicing law, McFadden enjoyed singing in the choir at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
An avid cook, McFadden would entertain visiting judges and attorneys with fancy dinner parties at his law office. One of his favorite dishes was wiener schnitzel.
"He used to say, 'If you can read, you can cook,'" recalled Barrett. "It was just part of his giving nature - preparing food for people and watching them enjoy it."
McFadden and several buddies formed the "Palmetto Investment Club," a clever name for a group that met for a weekly card game. The judge excelled at bridge and gin rummy.
Key in Catawbas' claim
In 1980, McFadden was instrumental in helping to resolve the Catawba Indians' claim to 144,000 acres in York, Lancaster and Chester counties - a conflict that threatened to bring future commerce to a halt.
Among other things, the settlement would allow the Catawbas to use federal money to purchase land from willing sellers to expand their reservation.
McFadden recognized the seriousness of the land claim long before most people, said U.S. Rep. John Spratt, who later brokered the federal settlement.
"Over his years of practice, Bob McFadden became a lawyer's lawyer and an exemplary judge, who was straight as an arrow," Spratt said Thursday.
News of McFadden's passing spread quickly through the Moss Justice Center, but the courts finished daily business as the judge would have wanted, employees said.
Attorneys respected McFadden as a caring jurist with the highest respect for the law, said former 16th Circuit Solicitor Larry Grant.
"He treated all people with dignity," Grant said.
With a courtly, hardworking approach, McFadden set a high standard for circuit judges who followed him, Judge Hayes said Thursday.
"I could say of him that which I hope could be put on my tombstone - that he was a gentleman and a gentle man," Hayes said.
Added Circuit Court Judge Lee S. Alford, a close colleague: "I have always respected and admired him. He was an outstanding legislator and an excellent circuit judge."
Law clerks who worked for McFadden held vivid memories of his presence in the courtroom.
"He has a story about every courthouse," Elizabeth Dameron said at McFadden's retirement.
McFadden told one of those stories at the end of his retirement speech.
He recalled a case in Fairfield County, at a time when the courthouse was being renovated, forcing trials into the basement of a nearby building.
"I just remember that my bench was a couple of fruit boxes with a board across the top," McFadden told listeners.
Everyone laughed, and McFadden promptly ended his speech - not wanting to occupy the spotlight for too long.