Judge Robert Groh, 90, a former state Supreme Court judge and commissioner of the city Department of Sanitation, died on Feb. 27 following an illness. He lived most of his life in Little Neck, retiring to Quogue, Long Island, a few years ago.
An active community member, Groh served for 44 years, until his death, on the Queens Library’s board of trustees. He was board president in 1970 and 1971. He also was on the board of United Cerebral Palsy of Queens for over 40 years and a former trustee of Booth Memorial Hospital (now New York Hospital Queens), Pride of Judea and Visions.
Groh was a graduate of Xavier High School and Fordham University School of Law. During World War II, he was a second lieutenant in the Army and served as a bodyguard to President Franklin Roosevelt and later was on the legal staff of General Douglas MacArthur for the occupied forces in Japan.
He served as deputy Queens borough president from 1969 to 1974, first under Borough President Sid Leviss until 1971, and then under Donald Manes.
Former Borough President Claire Shulman first met Groh when she was chairwoman of Community Board 11 and he was a real estate lawyer presenting his clients’ cases for rezoning. She later worked with him at Borough Hall when she was director of the Queens planning boards.
“He was a gallant gentleman, kindhearted, jovial and a good dancer,” Shulman recalled. “He always enjoyed life and last Christmas sent a picture of himself frolicking on the beach in Quogue.”
The current borough president agrees. Helen Marshall said that Groh was a leading citizen of Queens who helped make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers living in this borough. “I will miss him,” she added.
Groh was named commissioner of Sanitation, a post he held from 1974 to 1976. He worked under Mayor Abraham Beame’s administration, which was marked by large budget cuts due to the city’s fiscal crisis at the time. During his tenure there, one-third of the Sanitation workforce was cut and 10,000 workers went on a three-day strike during the summer of 1975, prior to the layoffs.
Officials at the Sanitation Department report that Groh was particularly committed to cleaning up the city’s street litter, an initiative that continues today.
He was later elected as a Civil Court judge, where he served from 1977 to 1981, and then to the state Supreme Court from 1981 until his retirement in 1991.
Groh remained involved in legal matters by becoming an adjutant justice of the Village of Quogue and acting justice of the Village of Westhampton Beach.
Queens Library Board President Leonard D’Amico and Library Director Thomas Galante called Groh a tireless supporter of libraries. “His wisdom and leadership will be sorely missed,” they said in a joint statement.
Galante, who knew him for 20 years, said in a telephone interview that Groh was a fun-loving person who always had a good joke ready and liked to wear a tie clip in the shape of a beer opener. “He had no pretensions,” Galante said. “He was a real gentleman who always kept the library close to his heart.”
He called Groh a great board member who was actively involved in all policy decisions. “Bob was definitely a good person. We need more Bob Grohs in this world.”
Groh’s late father, Theodore, served on the library board before him.
A spokesman for the Queens Centers for Progress (formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Queens) said that Groh was the founder of the group, served as board president from 1958 to 1963, and remained very active with the organization. He regularly served as master of ceremonies for annual dinners.
“He liked that role as emcee,” said Charles Houston, executive director of the cerebral palsy group. “Bob was a real presence on our board, very dedicated and committed. The story around here is that years ago when there were financial problems, he offered to guarantee the payroll. That’s the kind of person he was.”
A residential home for eight developmentally disabled senior citizens in Jamaica Estates was named after Groh’s late son, Robert G. Groh, who was killed while running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The retired judge also outlived his wife, Anne Marie, and daughter, Kathleen. He is survived by a granddaughter, Anne Law of East Moriches.
A funeral mass was held on March 3 at St. Anastasia’s Catholic Church in Douglaston with burial in Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Queens Library Foundation, 89-11 Merrick Blvd., Jamaica, N.Y. 11432 or Queens Centers for Progress, 81-15 164th St., Jamaica, N.Y. 11432