Paul J. Yesawich, Jr., 94, a resident of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, passed away in peace on December 13, 2017. He was born November 27, 1923, in Queens, NY, the only child of Paul and Mary Sidabra Yesawich. He was predeceased by his wife, Betty, and is survived by three children: Paul (Susan) of Charlottesville, Virginia; Peter (Paris) of Boca Raton, Florida; and Christopher, of Brightwood, Oregon; four grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.
He was an accomplished athlete, lawyer, judge and legal scholar. A standout high school basketball player at Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, NY, he accepted a full athletic scholarship to play basketball at Niagara University where he was eventually elected to the Niagara University Hall of Fame.
His time at Niagara was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He was fond of telling his children and grandchildren that during the war he was a member of the All Navy basketball team – until his All Navy team lost to the All Coast Guard team; after which he was promptly redeployed to serve on the USS Cepheus, an attack cargo ship that participated in the assault on Okinawa in 1945. It was the largest amphibious assault of the war, and he was one of the men who brought supplies to the beach to aid in the initial attack. During the assault the Cepheus came under heavy fire by Japanese aircraft, and aided in downing three of them. Although he rarely discussed it, during the war he was also a member of the Navy Scouts and Raiders, which became today’s Navy Seals – yet he was always self-effacing about his service and quick to point out that his training and activities were nothing like those of modern day Navy Seals.
He graduated from Niagara University with a BA in 1948, and an MA in 1950. He went on to play professional basketball for the Syracuse Nationals in the National Basketball Association before electing to attend Cornell Law School, from which he graduated in 1951, the same year he was admitted to the New York bar. Following law school, he joined the New York City law firm of Davis, Polk and Wardwell. He later served as Assistant Counsel to the subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigating the administration of Internal Revenue laws.
In 1955 he and his family moved to Cortland, NY, where he became a partner in the law firm of Folmer, Ryan, Fenstermacher & Yesawich. During this time, he also served as a Commissioner of the New York State Law Revision Commission. He was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1971; that same year he was elected to serve a full 14-year term on that court. He was later designated to serve on the Appellate Division, First Department, in Manhattan, in 1974, remaining there for seven years, simultaneously serving as a trial judge in the Sixth Judicial Department. During this time, he also served as a member of the Advisory Panel on the Proposed Code of Evidence for the State of New York. He was subsequently appointed to the Appellate Division, Third Department, where he served until his retirement in 1999. He also served temporarily as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the State of New York, in 1992. He had a deep respect for the law, and for the many attorneys who appeared before him over the years. His exemplary personal and professional comportment made him a wonderful role model for his children and grandchildren, and a committed mentor to other lawyers. Those who knew him will remember him as a rigorous thinker and gifted writer who possessed a profound sense of fairness.
His family wishes to thank Adrienne Tomaka and Norma Ward for their months of tireless, quiet, competent devotion to caring for “the Judge,” and for the innumerable kindnesses they extended to him in his later years. They were, and are, truly angels.
A private memorial service will be held at the convenience of the family.