‘Best of the Good Men,’ Restaurateur Richard McCooey Given Spirited Send-Off


Restaurateur Richard McCooey — founder of 1789 Restaurant, the Tombs and F. Scott’s — who died Aug. 6 at the age of 83 was given a tearful but joyous send-off Sept. 5 during a Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Trinity Church, one block from the restaurants.

With the church filled, the Jesuit priests of the parish at the altar and the Georgetown Chimes singing, the mass reflected the life of the beloved businessman and Georgetowner.
Eulogists were Andrew Brophy, John McCooey, Jr., Joseph Califano, Jr., and Brendan Sullivan, Jr.

John McCooey recalled being a freshman on Georgetown campus and his uncle Richard taking him to the store to get a coat — “I thought Georgetown was a southern school.” He called his uncle “eccentric but resourceful” and told the story of how Richard McCooey got the Coast Guard to fly out one of his fellow travelers who had fallen ill during a Carribean sailboat cruise — and then how his uncle returned to his fellow travelers in triumph with a Coast Guard helicopter. Translating the Georgetown University cheer, “Hoya Saxa,” the younger McCooey said of his uncle, “What rocks — what amazing rocks.”

Having been at Brooklyn Prep with McCooey, Califano reminded all, as if we needed to be, that McCooey was a devotee of Carl Jung and often referred to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Califano recalled that McCooey had arranged a dinner for him — then the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare — with Catholic Church leaders to discuss abortion and other issues. The meeting did not resolve the different opinions at the table — to which the restaurateur replied, “You see, one is an extrovert and the other, an introvert.”

Another close friend was Sullivan, who said, “He needed us. We needed him. He taught us how to live.” The classic Washington lawyer at Williams & Connelly told a story from his second year as an attorney. He had gotten an urgent call from McCooey to come immediately to a townhouse near Georgetown University. Sullivan arrived to see an impatient McCooey, a stern Jesuit, an elderly woman standing next to her husband who appeared to be sleeping in a chair. To avoid foreclosure, the couple needed to sign a mortgage document that would save the home for them and later give it to the university. With Sullivan present as attorney, McCooey insisted that the paper be signed by the old man whom the young lawyer soon realized was dead.
What ethical questions? The church howled in laughter. “He was so purely motivated,” Sullivan said of McCooey. “He was the best of the good men … and is putting together a gathering place in heaven.”

After the mass, friends and family walked to a reception at the nearby 1789 Restaurant, the Tombs and F. Scott’s, courtesy of John and Ginger Laytham.

McCooey graduated from Georgetown University in 1952 and opened 1789 and the Tombs in 1962. A friend of John Laytham of Clyde’s, he sold his iconic restaurants — at the corner of 36th and Prospect Streets — to the Clyde’s Restaurant Group in 1985.

Born Oct. 14, 1930, in New York City, McCooey worked in the advertising world after college and then decided to open his restaurants. In 1990, he married Karen Magnier McCooey. The couple ran a restaurant design firm.

Visit RichardMcCooey.org for more tributes and information.

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