ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 100 people attended a memorial service at the Tompkins County Courthouse for a man they said was a mentor, friend, and advocate for defendants’ rights.

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Wesley E. McDermott, 73, passed away Saturday after practicing law in Tompkins County for more than 40 years.

McDermott’s family, judges, lawyers, court clerks and people from all walks of the judicial system, crowded into the standing-room only courthouse to share memories about their friend and colleague on Monday afternoon.

“He had a great love for the idea and the concept of just taking people who are in trouble…and just seeing them through it,” said attorney Joseph Joch, President of the Tompkins County Bar Association.

At least a dozen people spoke at a podium, sharing highlights of their relationship with McDermott — calling the man a straight-shooter, laughing at his upfront personality and colorful language, talking about the hours he’d spend mentoring younger attorneys, and reflecting on how their lives would have been for the lesser without him.

Wesley E. McDermott

Ithaca City Judge Scott Miller said he was always thanking McDermott for his guidance, something Miller said was offered to him through McDermott’s last few days.

“Apparently, Wes wrote a reference letter on my behalf, I guess saying he’d like to see me doing some county work,” Miller said. “I never would have know that,” adding that even in death, he has so much to thank McDermott for.

Joch said earlier during the memorial that the letter was one of the last McDermott wrote as a lawyer last week, and was true to his caring and committed character.

Attorney Paul Tavelli reminisced on conversations he had with McDermott about how he could be charging more for his services.

“He would say, ‘Never. They (the clients) don’t have $15,000. They don’t have $500,’” Tavelli said. “He was an old fashioned attorney,” who would sometimes accept payments in small increments or fresh produce.

Miller said about McDermott’s influence on people, “I’m certainly not the same for it, and I know many attorneys and clients who certainly are not the same for it.”

Bangs Funeral home released the following obituary for McDermott:

Wesley E. McDermott passed away on Saturday, August 22, 2015, surrounded by his loving wife, children and special cousins. Born January 17, 1942 to the late Samuel B. and Lillian (Coon) McDermott, in Auburn, NY, and lifelong resident of Lansing NY. 

Wes was a respected Attorney in Ithaca, practicing law for over 40 years.  His list of accomplishments is almost as long as the list of the lives that he has touched over his lifetime. 

Wes graduated from Genoa Central School in 1959.  In June of 1961, he graduated from Auburn Community College, and also married his lifelong soulmate, Judith Solomon. 

In 1962, he enlisted in the United States Army.  He attended artillery and missile officer candidate school, in Fort Sill, OK.  He was First Lt. Captain eligible, and honorably discharged in 1963. In pursuit of his career, he was released from inactive reserves in 1969.

He attended and graduated from SUNY Cortland, with a degree in Sociology in 1966.  He went on to SUNY Buffalo School of Law, and received his doctorate of law degree in 1969, later being admitted to the Bar Association in 1970. 

He was Lansing Town Supervisor from 1972 – 1976, but his true passion was law, especially criminal law. 

Wes thrived on serving the public in any way he could, and became the Assigned Council Chair of Tompkins County from 2010-present day. 

It gave him great pleasure to advise and council the “younger” attorneys in the county, and felt that he was making a difference in their law practices. 

He was an avid “antiquer” and collector of many, many things.  He loved his little get-a ways to the casinos.  

Wes was preceded in death by his parents, Sam and Lillian, and a brother, Doug.  He is survived by the love of his life, Judy, to which he has been married to for 54 years, in addition to his sister, LaVonne (Vern) McKane, children, Lance, Kelli, Bret, and Chelsea, his grandchildren, Mackenzie, Michael, Kennedy, Taylor, Morgan, and Reace, and many cousins, nieces, nephew.

He will be missed more than words could possibly express, and our hearts ache with his absence. 

Funeral services will be held at the Lansing United Methodist Church on Thursday, August 27th at 1:00 P.M. 

Friends and family may attend calling hours at Bang’s Funeral Home, in Ithaca, NY, on Wednesday, August 26, from 4:00 – 7:00 P.M.  He will find eternal rest at the North Lansing Cemetery, where he will receive full military honors.  In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Tompkins County SPCA or the North Lansing Ladies Auxiliary.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.