Jan. 24, 1923 – Jan. 26, 2013
Charlotte Smallwood-Cook, of Castile, the first woman elected as a district attorney in New York State, died Jan. 26 of lung cancer in Crossroads House, Batavia. She was 90.
Born Charlotte Licht in Union Springs, she was a 1940 graduate of Trumansburg High School. She graduated from Cornell University in 1944 and Columbia University in 1946, then moved to Warsaw – the hometown of her first husband, Edward “Ned” Smallwood. The couple practiced law as partners.
She was 26 when she was elected Wyoming County district attorney in 1949, having defeated the county Republican Committee’s candidate of choice in the primary and winning the general election by a landslide. During her three-year term, she also became the first female district attorney to prosecute a murderer in a death penalty case.
After her husband’s death in 1952, she returned to private practice.
In 1962, she bought the Augustus Frank House on North Main Street in Warsaw, where she built her practice.
“She was a country lawyer. She started out doing everything,” said her daughter, Susan V. “Suki” Grossman.
As she grew older, Mrs. Cook stopped practicing criminal law and then dropped matrimonial law, focusing largely on personal injury.
Mrs. Cook retired last September. “She loved being a lawyer,” her daughter said. “She really didn’t want to retire.”
In 1989, Mrs. Cook was unanimously appointed chairwoman of the Wyoming County Republican Committee, even though she hadn’t been serving as a committeewoman. At the time, she became one of five women holding Republican County leadership posts statewide.
As a member of a New York State Bar Association committee studying restructuring the state’s court system, she opposed selecting judges by appointment rather than election.
She served on the association’s House of Delegates and had been a member of the Committees on Character and Fitness.
Mrs. Cook was among the first female fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
She also was a member of the Western New York Trial Lawyers Association, the American and New York State bar foundations and a past president of the Wyoming County Bar Association.
Her recent honors included a lifetime achievement award by the New York State District Attorneys Association.
Last Oct. 9 was proclaimed “Charlotte Smallwood-Cook Day” in Wyoming County, where a plaque honoring her now hangs in the courthouse.
Mrs. Cook’s other interests included painting; she started painting at age 65 and favored landscapes in oils. She also loved antiques.
“Growing up, she would take me to auctions almost every weekend,” her daughter said. “I used to hate them, but she had such a great time.”
Travel was another interest that took Mrs. Cook to Russia, China, Greece and her favorite place – France. On one occasion, she took everyone in her law firm to Europe, and she and her family traveled to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Her second husband, Frederick S. Cook, died in 1987.
Along with her daughter, survivors include a son, Edward C. “Chris” Smallwood; three stepdaughters, Cheryl Kelly, Suzanne Guesno and Jane Garrett; and a stepson, John Cook.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Castile United Church of Christ, North Main and Washington streets.