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Wednesday, June 28, 2023
4:00 - 5:00pm (Eastern time)
Geoffrey H. Waggoner died at home supported by his loving partner Michelle, his daughters, Katherine, Liz and Amelia, his sister Mary, and other supportive friends and neighbors. A plaintiff-oriented personal injury lawyer, Geoff spent his final days visiting with family and friends, recalling past trial highlights, and listening to great music from decades past.
Born in Washington D.C. to Walter Herrick Waggoner and Margaret Bucci Waggoner, Geoff’s early life was greatly influenced by his parents’ careers. His mother was a photographer and copy girl for the Washington Post, who met his father while he was Washington correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Geoff’s father, a Nieman Fellow in journalism at Harvard, next became a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, a career that spanned over 40 years.
When Geoff was five, his father was appointed to open the Times’s bureau in The Hague, where he covered the World Court. When it was time to leave for Europe, Geoff did not want to board the Queen Mary, as he had just entered a Father’s Day portraiture contest at Bloomingdales. He was sure his drawing of his father Walter was going to win, and— in fact— it did. He had drawn a jaunty portrait of Walter, smoking a pipe. The store tracked him down in Europe to give him the prize.
After three years in the Hague, Geoff’s father joined the paper’s London bureau, relocating the family to Kensington Square. Following three years of integrating into British society, the family returned to the States—rather than a subsequent appointment in Moscow—due to his grandmother’s failing health. Geoff arrived home as a tall, redheaded 12-year-old with a British accent, who thought “football” meant soccer. Once resettled stateside, his father covered the New Jersey political scene from Trenton. Geoff spent his high school years in Montclair, NJ, where the family continued to entertain New York and New Jersey intellectuals and celebrities.
Upon completing high school, Geoff—no stranger to adventure— famously hitchhiked to attend his alma mater, Duke University. He was always fascinated by science and the human body and spent high school summers getting the practical experience needed to pursue a career in medicine, including work as a medical assistant on an Indian reservation in North Dakota and also as an autopsy room assistant in Montclair. He ultimately settled on a psychology major, a choice he found both interesting and versatile, as well as useful in his later career.
At Duke, Geoff met some of his best, lifelong friends. He joined a fraternity, a group of non-conformists and free thinkers that ultimately went “local” and became known as Beta Phi Zeta, affectionately referred to as “The Bozos.” Geoff was proud to claim this and his personal nickname of “Daddy Waggs,” bestowed by his fraternity brothers.
After graduating from Duke, Geoff, like many “boomers” competing with the largest generation of graduates ever, was not accepted at his choice of law schools. Undeterred, he spent a “gap” year working as an advance man for the campaign of Brendan Byrne, a Superior Court judge who became the Governor of New Jersey. He also worked as a federal criminal investigator, and served as a Legal Aid volunteer for the NJ State Antitrust Division. The next time he applied to law school he was accepted everywhere. He chose University of South Carolina in Columbia because the physical plant was brand new and the tuition was easy on his self-funded budget. At USC he ran into Jay Gouldon, an old Eaton House classmate and soccer teammate in London, bringing Geoff’s expat experience full circle.
After graduating from law school, Geoff went to work for Reese Joye, handling what he called “screwball torts" and other personal injury cases. He was drawn to torts and personal injury cases through his continued interest in medicine and anatomy. After leaving Reese, he continued to practice with George Kefalos and Elliott Barrow. He was a member of the South Carolina Bar and the Charleston County Bar, and enjoyed great success as a trial lawyer. He was a pioneer in the plaintiff’s bar, being the first lawyer in the state to offer expert testimony on brain damage in cases involving closed head injuries. Geoff represented the first father in South Carolina to win full custody of his children. He held leadership positions in the SC Trial Lawyers Association, now the South Carolina Association for Justice. He enjoyed the challenge of taking on cases that others turned down as unwinnable, only to score a big win for the “little guy.” He had great empathy for his clients which fueled his dedication.
In his spare time, Geoff was chairman of Crime Stoppers for nearly five years, gave several years of dedicated service to Northwoods Sertoma, a national service organization dedicated to speech and hearing, and was a right-hand man in the “Boo Crew” haunted house team benefitting the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. A long-time member of the Mt. Pleasant Exchange Club, Geoff gave freely of his time as well as financial support. He was also a valuable contributor to his regular trivia team and was perennial member of the “Zonkers,” his law school intramural basketball team, with whom he kept close ties over the years.
On a personal level, Geoff was charismatic, social, funny, and confident, with an endearing ability to make fun of himself. He inherited his father’s newspaper reporter talent of being able to start a conversation with anyone, just as he did when he first met Michelle. He also had a fascination with scaring people that sent some children running home screaming from birthday parties. The long-held family motto was – “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”
Geoff was preceded in death by his parents Walter and Margaret, and his sister Anne Bancroft (Griff). He died on the second anniversary of the death of his friend John Hill, attended by John’s widow Sandy, a Duke nurse. He is survived by his loving partner, Michelle Blount and her son Bryan; his sister Mary Lemma (Joe); his daughters Katherine Waggoner, Elizabeth Benedix (Marcel), and Amelia Page (Matt); and his grandchildren Jack Page, Charlotte Benedix and Penelope Page. Their grief is shared by the mother of his children and former wife, Laura Moore, and her family, Tyre Moore Sr. and Tyre Moore, Jr. (Nicola).
Arrangements are being handled by J. Henry Stuhr, and a memorial service will be held on Wednesday, June 28th at 4:00 pm at the Unitarian Church in Charleston located at 4 Archdale Street, with a reception following in Gage Hall. Please confirm your attendance at http://www.bit.ly/rememberingGHW
Contributions in memoriam may be made to Windwood Farm Home & Family Services, 4857 Windwood Farm Road, Awendaw, SC 29429; Crimestoppers of the Lowcountry, 4628 Hyde Avenue, North Charleston, SC 29419; or an organization of your choice.