Robert Satter dies at 92, was author, legislator and judge

Robert Satter, a World War II combat veteran, former legislator and retired Superior Court judge who wrote unflinching essays about aging and death and books about the bench and how power was wielded at the Connecticut State Capitol, has died. He was 92 and lived in Glastonbury.

Satter represented Newington in the General Assembly from 1959 to 1967, though not for consecutive terms. He attributed a defeat at the polls in 1960 to his handling a real estate closing for a white woman who sold her house to a black person. He regained the seat in 1962.


Robert Satter

He recounted the episode (as well his combat experience in the Pacific) five years ago in an oral history for Rutgers:

“A neighbor of ours, who was a very close friend of ours, sold her house to a black person in the town of Newington, which is just south of Hartford, which is an overwhelmingly white town … middle-class town, and I represented her for that closing. My daughters had gone up to the black person the day after they moved in and brought them some cookies, or something. My wife had cut some flowers and brought it to them. Anyway, that sort of got around town, that if I were elected there’d be a black person on every street and that’s what defeated me, essentially.”

Satter also won one election by a single vote, a story he recounted in his book about the legislature, “Under the Gold Dome: An insider’s look at the Connecticut Legislature.” He also wrote “Doing Justice: A trial judge at work.”

Judges face mandatory retirement at age 70 in Connecticut, but Satter stayed active in the law as a senior judge and a trial referee. Late in life, Satter pursued a second career as a published writer who produced four books and numerous articles.

“Today, Connecticut lost a remarkable man, and a dedicated public servant and jurist,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said in a joint statement.  “Judge Satter’s work under the gold dome in the General Assembly, and later on the bench, span over five decades and left a lasting legacy of justice and opportunity for Connecticut residents. We honor his extraordinary work for our state, as well as his service to the nation as a veteran of World War II. His absence on the Court and in our community will be deeply felt. Our sympathies, our support and our gratitude for a lifetime of public service go out to his family and friends at this time.”

Unsparingly, he wrote in The Courant about what it meant to turn 90.

“Internally, I am a bundle of memories of people I’ve known, events I’ve experienced, books I’ve read and poems I can still recite. More and more I live in that interior space, recalling the past. When I die, that presence and circuitry will vanish. Touching death made me appreciate even more the preciousness of each day. Yet, my life is constricting about me. Friends die and each of their deaths diminishes me.”

In 1989, after her death, Satter wrote in the New York Times about Ruth, his wife of 43 years. He recounted how she continued work as a biologist at the University of Connecticut for nine years after being diagnosed with leukemia, and how they traveled the world, despite her illness.

He detailed his last conversations with her:

” ‘Do you remember that election night in the Newington high school gym when the tally of votes cast on each of the voting machines were being read off? They were three-digit numbers, and there were six or seven machines. You added them in your head and told me I won by one vote. Everyone in the room was coming up with a different total. But you were right.’ She smiled.”

And it was Ruth who prepared him for every life’s inevitable end.

“Ruth, the biologist, knew that living and dying were parts of the natural scheme,” he wrote. “She loved life. But when death became inevitable, she accepted it gracefully, even gratefully. That was Ruth’s last gift: she taught me, by her shining example, not to fear death.”