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Richard Clayman, 65; lawyer proud of Chelsea roots

Richard Clayman discussed the Charles Stuart murder case and what the siblings — from left, Shelley Yandoli, Michael Stuart, Neysa Porter, and Mark Stuart — knew of the plot.

1990 File/Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Richard Clayman discussed the Charles Stuart murder case and what the siblings — from left, Shelley Yandoli, Michael Stuart, Neysa Porter, and Mark Stuart — knew of the plot.

The first thing Richie Clayman told you was where he was from, even if you already knew. He told waiters in Madrid, who had no idea what it meant, and Boston’s judges, who did. If you had known him for 40 years, he would still not let you forget.

“He’d leave you a voicemail and say, ‘Richie Clayman from Chelsea,’ ” said Thomas F. Reilly, a former Massachusetts attorney general and a friend since the early 1970s, when they were young prosecutors in the Suffolk district attorney’s office.

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“He wore it on his sleeve, and he wore it with pride; he’s somebody who never forgot where he came from,” Reilly said. “I miss his calls. I miss hearing that message.”

At Mr. Clayman’s funeral earlier this month, hundreds filled and spilled out of Temple Emmanuel, in Chelsea, of course. Those in attendance estimated the crowd at 1,000 or considerably more, a cross-section of his life as a prosecutor and defense attorney, a real estate developer and Chelsea elected official, husband, father, and friend.

“He was structurally unable to dislike anybody,” said his brother, Steven of Boston, “and he had hundreds and hundreds of friends.”

Mr. Clayman was 65 when he died of a stroke May 1 in Massachusetts General Hospital. He was being treated for cancer and just a few days earlier was sitting outside his Revere home, savoring the ocean view with his wife, Deborah.

“He said to me, ‘Deborah, if there’s any place in the whole world I could be, it’s here with you,’ ” she said.

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“First and foremost, he was a wonderful husband and father,” she added. “The most important thing to him in his life was his family.”

In courtrooms, Mr. Clayman’s style was “not low-key,” a lawyer friend told the Globe with a degree of understatement in 1990.

That year, Boston TV stations carried live a news conference in Mr. Clayman’s Chelsea offices. He was representing most of the siblings of Charles Stuart, who was accused of killing his wife, Carol DiMaiti Stuart, before jumping to his death from the Tobin Bridge after he was identified as a suspect.

Known for an emotional presence in courtrooms, Mr. Clayman was no less so while defending the Stuart siblings in the court of public opinion from questions about how much they knew of Charles Stuart’s plans. When some critics suggested Mr. Clayman might have been too theatrical, he shrugged off their barbs.

“I’m a lawyer,” he told the Globe. “I’m not an entertainer or a TV commentator. I did what I had to as a lawyer. I’ve done lawyer things for 15 years. My mannerisms are what they are. I am what I am. What you saw was Richie Clayman.”

The younger of two sons, Richard I. Clayman grew up in Chelsea, where he worked the counter of his father’s drugstore.

When he and his brother became business partners to develop, manage, and own apartment buildings, they moved into modern offices a short stroll from where their grandfather ran a fish store.

“We’ve come a long way,” Mr. Clayman said, laughing, in a 2002 Globe interview. “Forty years of hard work, and we’ve moved only 50 yards from where we started.”

He graduated from Chelsea High School, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Suffolk University Law School and was serving on the Chelsea School Committee while still in college. Mr. Clayman went on to serve as president of the Chelsea Board of Aldermen.

Formerly married to Amy Nechtem of Swampscott, with whom he had a daughter, Kate, Mr. Clayman started his law career as an assistant district attorney.

He helped handle cases such as prosecuting those who assaulted Theodore Landsmark, an African-American businessman who was attacked by white antibusing protesters near Boston City Hall. The moment was captured in a widely reproduced photo of Mr. Landsmark moments before a protester struck him with a flagpole.

Mr. Clayman went into private practice with Richard Voke and later founded the Chelsea firm Clayman and Dodge.

“In the courtroom, he had such ease and poise and style, you had to watch him,” said his daughter, Kate Clayman Huggard of Swampscott, who followed his route through the Suffolk district attorney’s office into private practice.

“We talked a million times a day,” she said. “He was a father, a confidant, a best friend, and the person I went to with everything. I really have always felt that I hit the lottery, having him as my Dad. I felt so much love from him, every single day. He was what every person would want as a father.”

The same was true for Erica Colombo of Boston, whose mother, the former Deborah Bradley, married Mr. Clayman.

“Right from the beginning, it felt like I was his own; I never felt like his stepdaughter,” said Erica, who also retraced Mr. Clayman’s steps through Suffolk University Law School, the Suffolk district attorney’s office, and into a private practice next to his office.

“I’ve always looked up to Richard as an amazing attorney, who just ‘got it,’ ” she said in a eulogy at his funeral, “and I always strive to be the kind of lawyer who just ‘gets it,’ too.”

Mr. Clayman also took the image he projected seriously and “was dressed to the nines, always,” Kate said. “His appearance would be spectacular. His shoes would be perfectly shined.”

And yet, Mr. Clayman was as concerned about those who polished his shoes as he was about those who wore robes at the front of the courtroom. “He always said, ‘Never forget the shoeshine boy,’ ” his wife said. “He was good to people from all walks of life.”

“Money wasn’t important to my brother,” said Steven, who recalled times when Mr. Clayman would duck out of business affairs to help clients who could not afford to pay for his services or people who just needed help.

“Anybody ever needed anything, he was right there for you,” said longtime friend Richard Sargent. “If you were sitting down with him at breakfast, people kept coming up to him asking him this and that, questions about legal advice. He never got a chance to eat. He left a lot of cold breakfasts on the table, I’ll tell you that.”

Reilly, who is now with the firm Cooley Manion Jones, said that while Mr. Clayman’s gifts in court and in business were apparent, “he was an even better friend.”

“You don’t come across many people like Richie Clayman in the course of a lifetime,” Reilly said. “I was just very fortunate to know him and to love him. He was one of a kind.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard @globe.com.

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