Guy G. Rutherfurd, former managing partner of one of New York City’s oldest law firms whose lineage included a colonial governor of New York, a U.S. vice president and the mistress of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has died. He was 96.
He died on May 27 at his home in Manhattan after suffering from respiratory ailments, according to his son, Alec Rutherfurd.
Rutherfurd worked more than 50 years at Morris & McVeigh LLP, a Manhattan-based firm founded in 1862 to represent some of New York’s founding families, from which he descended. Among them were the Morris family, owner of large parts of Morrisania (today’s South Bronx), and the Stuyvesants, whose holdings included what is now the 80-acre Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Manhattan’s biggest apartment complex.
Rutherfurd, who counted Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of what became New York, and John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, among his ancestors, wasn’t one to brag about his family’s history and connections, said Macdonald Budd, who succeeded Rutherfurd as managing partner at Morris & McVeigh in the mid-1990s.
“He was very diffident about it,” Budd said yesterday in an interview. “He didn’t use his lineage as a device to increase his importance, if you want to put it that way. He was very reserved, very private, very much of a gentleman.”
Like the firm, Rutherfurd specialized in trusts and estates. His work included establishing the New York City-based Achelis and Bodman Foundations, of which he was a former chairman. He also played a key role in deciding to relocate the firm in the 1960s from 60 Wall St. to midtown Manhattan.
“At a time when most firms like us thought no self-respecting lawyer would practice north of Fulton Street, he suggested to us that we consider moving uptown,” Budd said. “Most of the legal profession is located there now, so I’d say he had some foresight on that.” The firm moved to 300 Park Ave., then to 450 Park Ave., and today is at 767 Third Ave.
Rutherfurd’s mother, the former Alice Morton, who died when he was 4, was a daughter of Levi P. Morton, who served from 1889 to 1893 as vice president under Benjamin Harrison and from 1895 to 1897 as governor of New York. (After the vice presidency, Levi Morton returned to banking and, in 1909, merged his Morton Trust Co. into Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., now JPMorgan Chase & Co.)
Rutherfurd’s father, Winthrop, remarried in 1920, and the former Lucy Page Mercer became Rutherfurd’s stepmother. She would become a historical figure herself, through her association with Eleanor Roosevelt and subsequent romantic affair with Franklin Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt discovered the affair in 1918 when she found incriminating letters between Mercer, whom she had hired in 1913 as her 22-year-old social secretary, and her husband, who was then assistant U.S. Navy secretary. To save their marriage, Franklin Roosevelt promised to break off the affair with the woman nine years his junior. Whether he did so is a question debated by historians.
In “Franklin & Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life,” his 2008 book, Joseph E. Persico wrote that the affair that supposedly ended in 1918 may have continued until his death in 1945.
According to presidential records, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd accompanied Roosevelt on his final trip to the Catoctin Mountains retreat now known as Camp David on July 9, 1944. (Winthrop, her husband, died that year.) She also was with Roosevelt when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945. She died in 1948.
In an interview yesterday, Alec Rutherfurd said he never met his father’s stepmother, whose death predated his birth. “She was my father’s mother, effectively,” he said. “Everyone in the family was very fond of her.”
Guy Gerard Rutherfurd was born in New York City on Sept. 11, 1915, one of seven children of Winthrop and Alice Rutherfurd.
He graduated in 1938 from Princeton University and in 1942 from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was a member of the law review and, according to Persico’s book, a shooting partner of Franklin Roosevelt Jr.
Also according to Persico, Rutherfurd received a commission in the U.S. Navy, the branch he preferred, thanks in part to his stepmother’s request for presidential intervention. Persico quotes a letter from Guy Rutherfurd to the president in the summer of 1942: “Dear Mr. President, At your suggestion I stayed in Charlottesville long enough to get my law degree and then get through the New York Bar exams. I was glad to see Franklin … also passed the exams.”
As a naval officer during World War II, Rutherfurd worked as a legal liaison between the Navy and the British Isles Courts and led the postwar review of 85 tons of classified German naval records for use as evidence in the Nuremberg trial of Karl Donitz, according to a death notice yesterday in the New York Times. Donitz, the German naval commander, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
With the former Georgette Whelan, whom he married in 1938, Rutherfurd had four children, three of whom survive him. In addition to son Alec, portfolio manager at Drake Asset Management LLC in Glen Head, New York, they are Guy Jr., a partner and portfolio manager at F&V Capital Management LLC in New York City, and Leith Rutherfurd Talamo, an art restorer, also in New York.