Robert Hall Wagstaff (1941 - 2017)

  • "9-21-18 I only just heard of Bob's passing. I grew up with..."
    - Barbara Collett DeZonia
  • "I met Bob in the Fall of 1969, when he was a cast..."
    - Stephen Crosby
  • "Sorry to hear of Bobs passing. I knew him at Dartmouth and..."
    - Philip Wyckoff
  • "Cynthia, Gene and I only found out today from George at..."
  • " I was lucky to meet Bob when I was just 16. Orphaned..."
    - Kim Rich

Renowned constitutional lawyer Robert Hall Wagstaff passed away peacefully on
Oct. 8, 2017, in Carmel, Calif. Robert was born on Nov. 5, 1941, in Kansas City, Mo., to Robert and Katherine Wagstaff. Lawyer, aviator and lifelong student of history - bon vivant, raconteur and loyal colleague - Robert touched and enriched many lives.
Robert attended Border Star Elementary and Pembroke Country Day School in Kansas City before graduating from Dartmouth College in 1963, where he was a member of Sigma Nu. He then graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1966. In 1967, after serving as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Kansas, Robert ventured to the frontier town of Fairbanks, Alaska, at the request of Alaska Attorney General Edgar Paul Boyko, where he polished his skills in the trial and appellate courts as an Assistant District Attorney for two years.
Robert then moved to Anchorage, Alaska, and embarked upon a distinguished career as a trial lawyer and appellate advocate. His work ranged from criminal defense, aviation law, Native American rights to medical malpractice, and culminated in a 14-year real estate fraud class action lawsuit. But he was best known and admired as an implacable force dedicated to constitutional rights and civil liberties, representing many clients pro bono. Robert argued over 70 appeals before the Alaska Court of Appeals, Alaska Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1973, at the age of 32, he made his first of two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, successfully arguing the denial of his client's right to confront witnesses under the Sixth and 14th Amendments. Robert was nationally known in particular for the Ravin v. State right to privacy case, which affirmed limits on government intrusion into the home. Universally respected, Robert became President of the Alaska Bar Association, a member of the Alaska Judicial Council, and his dedicated support of the American Civil Liberties Union resulted in his being elected to ACLU National Board of Directors from 1971 to 1977.
Equally accomplished in aviation, Robert began flying in 1967 and became a passionate and extraordinarily knowledgeable pilot and flight instructor. He flew single and multi-engine aircraft, seaplanes, helicopters and jets. He thrilled in flying the Douglas DC-3, a historic aircraft which he described as a war hero and the ultimate taildragger. He flew widely over Alaska, Canada, and the Lower 48 states. For a time he flew to his satellite law office in Dillingham, Alaska, where he slept on the floor, and he relished flying to remote villages to meet with clients. He served as President of the United States Aerobatic Foundation for eight years, as a Member of the Airspace Committee, Alaska Airman's Association for three years, and was a recipient of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale Air Sports Medal in 1991.
In 2002, the University of Oxford accepted Robert in a postgraduate law course. His spirit of adventure led him to fly his own twin engine plane to England, choosing the northern route across Labrador, Greenland and Iceland. He spent a total of 17 hours in the air over eight days.
Although Robert and his wife Cynthia planned to stay in Oxford for only a year, they found it so stimulating they stayed for 10 years. Robert earned a Master of Studies in Legal Research in 2006, and a Doctor of Philosophy in 2011. Robert and Cynthia found their lives enriched by their academic pursuits and their friendships with their colleagues in Oxford and London and during their frequent flights into the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Jersey and the Continent.
Robert participated in numerous international human rights forums during these years. Robert's thesis research resulted in his book, Terror Detentions and the Rule of Law, which Oxford University Press honored with publication in 2014.
Robert was also a "petrol head," (a keen fan of motorsports), a passion he shared with friends at home and abroad. He was a member of the Royal Automobile Club in London and very appreciative of the Club's sartorial regulations.
In the words of a good friend and colleague: "It goes without saying that he was a powerful and accomplished lawyer and understood his first duty was to bring the law to bear in defense of justice and equality. He was a great man in his lifelong dedication to law and justice. I will miss his unshakeable belief that all the identifiable failures in justice and equality could ultimately be fixed."
He is survived by his wife, Cynthia Fellows; brother, Thomas and wife Starr; sister, Katherine; sons, Ian, Robin and Dylan; grandsons, Alexander and Will; granddaughter, Lily; stepdaughter, Jada Quinn Livingston, her husband Trevor and their children Rose, Mack and Louis.
A Memorial Service will be held on Nov. 18, 2017, at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Mo., at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations to the ACLU are appreciated.
Religious Service Information
Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral
415 W 13th St
Kansas City, MO 64105
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Published in Anchorage Daily News from Nov. 10 to Nov. 13, 2017