Thomas H. Clayton

Obituary: Clayton, legal adviser to seven governors, dies

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012 - 10:59 am

Thomas H. Clayton, a Sacramento lawyer who served as a legal adviser to seven California governors, died July 30 of a heart attack in his sleep, his family said. He was 85.

Mr. Clayton spent almost four decades in public service. He started in 1954 and rose in state government to oversee major legal deals as deputy chief counsel for the departments of general services, legal services and real estate.

He led negotiations for agreements with many landholders to stage the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley and worked on agreements with the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Oakland Coliseum. He oversaw legal efforts to improve conditions at state veterans hospitals and created agreements to preserve the Mendocino Headlands.

Quiet and unassuming in temperament, Mr. Clayton was a loyal public servant and dedicated professional who offered straightforward, well-reasoned legal counsel to Democratic and Republican governors and appointees. He retired in 1991.

"He was service oriented, so he saw his job as a reward and a way to give back to his country," said his son Mark. "It was a very noble thing for him."

Practicing law was a family tradition for Thomas Herbert Clayton, who was born in Sacramento in 1927. He was the ninth of 10 children born to Ella and Herbert V. Clayton, who was the state law librarian and founder of the McGeorge School of Law library.

Encouraged by their father, Thomas Clayton and three of his brothers became lawyers. On Sundays, the entire family gathered after church at their parents' Second Avenue home in Oak Park.

"They'd have these huge lunches or dinners at Grandpa's house, and lots of friends and neighbors would be there too," Mr. Clayton's son said. "The family was very close.

After graduating from Sacramento High School in early 1945, Mr. Clayton immediately joined the Army and arrived in Germany with the 1st Infantry Division during the final days of World War II. He returned home after his service and earned a history degree and law degree from UCLA. He passed the California bar exam in 1954 while he was unknowingly afflicted with tuberculosis.

Mr. Clayton, who lived in the Rosemont community, was legally separated for the last 20 years from his second wife, Kyung Clayton. He is survived by a daughter and son whom he adopted with his first wife, Betty Moseley. When their 24-year marriage ended in divorce, he won custody of the children in a rare legal victory for fathers during the 1970s.

Besides practicing law, Mr. Clayton spent weekends working on a Yolo County farm that he owned for more than 20 years with his brother James. Despite long days at work or traveling throughout California on state legal business, he made time for camping trips and other activities at home with his children.

"He taught me how to fish and how to roll a sleeping bag. He went camping with me and my entire Girl Scout troop," said his daughter Carrie Saber.

"My dad always put us kids first. You could always tell with him that he loved you every minute of every day of your entire life."

Thomas H. Clayton

Born: March 27, 1927

Died: July 30, 2012

Survived by: Son, Mark Clayton of Rosemont; daughter, Carrie Saber of Rosemont; and brother, Norman Clayton of Sacramento

Services: None

Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Sutter Medical Center Foundation – Cancer Center, 2800 L St., Suite 620, Sacramento, CA 95816-5600; or Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, 3333 Third Ave., Sacramento, CA 95817.

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