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Local civil rights lawyer John Doar dies

President Barack Obama places the Presidential Medal of Freedom around New Richmond native John Doar during a ceremony at the White House in May 2012. (Photo by Yetta Olmstead)

New Richmond native John Doar, 92, died in New York early Tuesday, Nov. 11, of congestive heart failure.

Doar, a lawyer famous for his civil rights work for the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson presidential administrations, was born Dec. 3, 1921, and called New Richmond home his entire life, according to his son Robert Doar, even though his career took him to Washington and New York.

“He grew up there and loved New Richmond as much as any place he ever lived and always viewed it as his home,” Robert Doar said. “He was just a great public servant and a good citizen -- and a great father too.”

John Doar and his wife Anne had four children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and his legacy reaches well beyond his family and includes his civil rights work in the 1960s. In May 2012, President Barack Obama presented John Doar with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other specific public or private endeavors.

John Doar was a recognized leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s. He served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

In that capacity, he was involved with many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Miss., following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963.

John Doar brought notable civil rights cases to trial, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss., and led the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In acknowledging the role John Doar played in the Civil Rights movement, President Obama called the New Richmond native "the face of the Justice Department in the South."

Obama even went as far as to say that he might not have been elected president had it not been for the courageous work of John Doar and others in the 1960s.

John Doar later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon. He was senior counsel at the law firm Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack

In New Richmond, plans have been underway for more than a year to create the John Doar Civil Rights Trail around Mill Pond to honor the man and his cause.

“He was very honored by it and so are all of us,” Robert Doar said. “It will be wonderful. It’s a real tribute and we want to help New Richmond make it happen. It’s a very lovely idea and it will be terrific.”

According to Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt, the city and members of the Doar family are working together on the project, which is still in a pre-design phase. Wendt hopes to bring formal plans to the City Council in 2015.

“Our thoughts are with the family,” said City Administrator Mike Darrow on Tuesday. “He has had such a significant impact on the country. It’s an amazing thing that he was part of our community here, too. The purpose of the trail is to highlight the important things that he and others have done during that timeframe.”

Visible from the trail will be the Doar, Drill & Skow law firm building that John Doar’s father William Thomas Doar helped established in the 1910s. Both John Doar and his brother Tom Doar went on to work at the firm.

“John was still part of the Doar, Drill & Skow family, even though he had been away since 1960,” said local attorney Michael J. Brose. “He was back at least annually and would visit with members of the firm. Those of us who have been here for any amount of time are terribly saddened to think of how lucky we were to have been in contact with somebody who was such a legal giant and such a great guy. He was down to Earth. He was such a New Richmond guy.”

The Doar family is still making funeral and burial arrangements, and Robert Doar expects to hold a memorial service in New Richmond in the coming months.

“He was a great American, and he was proud to be from New Richmond,” Robert Doar said.

Former New Richmond News Editor Jeff Holmquist contributed to this report.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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