Obituary: Zig Schmitt, 52

January 1, 1998

Zig Schmitt, a former East Hampton town attorney, died of brain cancer at home on Monday. He had been diagnosed with the disease in August. Mr. Schmitt was 52 and lived on Buell Lane in East Hampton.

Mr. Schmitt was born in Miami on Dec. 21, 1945, the son of the former Lila Greenspan and W. Gordon Schmitt. He grew up in Miami Beach, attended the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., and graduated from Harvard College in 1968. He received a master's degree from the Harvard School of Education the following year.

That same year he married Jill Keefe, with whom he lived in Cambridge and New York City until 1971, when they moved to Fresh Pond Road in Amagansett. Their only child, Molly, was born in 1973. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982.

Soon after arriving here, Mr. Schmitt joined the Amagansett Fire Department and served as one of its first emergency medical technicians.

He and his family left the area temporarily in 1975 while he attended the University of Miami Law School. Returning to the South Fork, Mr. Schmitt became a partner, with Thomas Twomey and Stephen Latham, in the Riverhead law firm then called Twomey Latham & Schmitt.

He was practicing there when he was tapped as town attorney in 1980 by the first Democratic majority elected to the Town Board in half a century. At a time when developers and the town were locked in bitter battle, Mr. Schmitt worked to pass environmental legislation, including upzonings on Napeague.

After the Democrats were turned out of office in 1981 Mr. Schmitt joined the law offices of Leonard Ackerman in East Hampton. He practiced there for about five years and afterward remained of counsel to the firm.

He was, said Mr. Ackerman, not only a law partner but a good friend and confidant whose insights and integrity were highly valued. "When I had to make a hard decision on something, he would be the one I'd call."

Mr. Schmitt interrupted his law practice to investigate questions surrounding the death of his brother Michael in Miami. Afterward he spent several years successfully litigating a trust dispute on behalf of his family before the Illinois Supreme Court.

"These experiences refined his character and changed his life," said another brother, David.

Those close to Mr. Schmitt agree he emerged from these events with a clear sense of purpose. He spent the rest of his life dealing with family legal and financial matters, as well as providing the sage advice and counsel upon which his friends and acquaintances came to rely.

Friends and family described Mr. Schmitt as an engaging and complex person with a quick wit. He thrived on challenging work and good conversation, bringing to both an uncommon tenacity and keen moral sense.

"Zig was brilliant in the fullest sense. He had an absolutely scintillating intellect, a blend of incisive analysis and the wildest flights of inventiveness," said a longtime friend, Winifred Rosen of Springs.

"I've never known a more voracious or eclectic reader," she added.

He read his favorite book, "Don Quixote," over and over again. He also devoured the writings of Aristotle, Montaigne, Sun-tzu, Beckett, Emerson, and William Burroughs, among others, not to mention a daily stack of newspapers and periodicals, Ms. Rosen said.

He shared his love of books with friends, who became accustomed to receiving books such as "The Complete Essays of Montaigne" and "The Seven Military Classics of China" as Christmas presents.

Friends described Mr. Schmitt as an eccentric who lived life on his own terms. He loved his work and spent many hours in the basement of his house, which he called his "bunker," surrounded by bankers' boxes that he used as filing cabinets, his Macintosh computer, Viticcio Chianti, and music.

He was idiosyncratic in his enthusiasms. Once he found something he liked, he stuck with it. He invariably wore gray or khaki trousers and a light-blue Brooks Brothers button-down shirt. Each day he ate lunch, and sometimes breakfast, at the same restaurant. He drove Volvo station wagons and listened each night to BBC news on a short-wave radio.

He is survived by his daughter, Molly, of New York City, his brother, who lives in Miami, a niece, Maggie Schmitt of Cambridge, Mass., and his companion of the past year, Jackie Worth of Sag Harbor.

A funeral service is scheduled tomorrow, Friday, at 12:30 p.m. at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, of which he was a member. Burial will follow in the Jewish Center's cemetery off Accabonac Highway in Springs. S.M