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Nov 16, 2009 3:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Richard 'Digger' McMahon, owner of Barrister's, dies

Nov 16, 2009 3:55 PM

Richard “Digger” McMahon, the owner of Barrister’s Restaurant on Main Street in Southampton Village, had two families, according to his wife, Margaret.

One family was made up of Margaret and their two sons, Kevin, 30, an employee of the Southampton Golf Club, and Richard, 24, a first lieutenant in the 118th Military Police Battalion—all of whom were at his bedside when he lost his battle with cancer on Thursday, November 5, one day after his 61st birthday.

His other family included his friend and business partner, Mike Ferran, and the staff at Barrister’s Restaurant, which the two men opened together in 1979.

“He would say that Barrister’s was his second family, and he would laugh, because he had an ever-changing staff of people, and he felt very strongly about them and cared for them, because they were all kids,” Ms. McMahon said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening. “Sometimes he was a father figure to them. Most of the time, he was a good, square boss.”

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 4, 1948, to Patricia and Richard H. McMahon Sr., he attended Watkinson School in Hartford, Connecticut, before going on to attend Southampton College.

At Mr. McMahon’s wake at O’Connell Funeral Home on Monday, Mr. Ferran said being business partners is “like being married,” and, in such a close relationship, he saw all sides of Mr. McMahon’s personality.

“He was a calm, deliberate, thoughtful person, and a loyal friend,” said Mr. Ferran, adding that he took care of most of Barrister’s finances while Mr. McMahon took charge of the many other aspects of running a business. “He was always very positive and always thought everything through.”

Even though neither of the partners hails from Southampton—they met at Southampton College in the 1970s—Mr. Ferran said that Mr. McMahon focused much of his efforts at Barrister’s on serving the locals.

“He always wanted to cater to the local people because he thought it was very important to stay open 12 months of the year,” said Mr. Ferran, adding that the establishment, known for its cozy, friendly atmosphere, stayed open during many blizzards and hurricanes.

Although running a restaurant requires a practically endless commitment of time, Ms. McMahon said that her husband was happiest eating meals she made at home.

“He liked to stay home and eat my fare, like steak, pot roast, barbecue,” Ms. McMahon said. “There was nothing he liked more than being home with his family and having a nice meal. And a big, fat dessert.”

Mr. McMahon’s son Richard, who is on compassionate leave from his service at Guantanamo Bay, said this week that he, his brother and his father shared a favorite pastime: duck hunting.

“We did a lot of duck hunting at Taylor’s Creek in Southampton,” Richard said, adding that they started hunting when he was 16. “We used to go out early in the morning before the sun was up.”

Richard also appreciated how his father supported his decision to enlist in the military. “As a father, he was worried about it, but he knew that it was what I wanted to do, and he wasn’t going to stop me or persuade me against doing it,” he said.

Ms. McMahon noted that her younger son’s lifelong dream had been to join the Army. Her older son, Kevin, was in the U.S. Army from 2001 to 2004 and served in Iraq in 2003. To honor his years of service, he received a proclamation from Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley at the village’s Veterans Day parade on Wednesday and was a featured speaker at the Veterans Day services held later at Veterans Memorial Hall on Pond Lane in Southampton.

Mr. McMahon’s nephew, Trevor McMahon, remembered his uncle this week as “larger than life.”

“He had an amazing sense of humor, and he could find humor in life’s worst tragedies,” he said. “He could always make you smile no matter what was happening.”

Mr. Ferran had no trouble remembering how he and Mr. McMahon met and started what became a Southampton Village Main Street mainstay, famous for its burgers and two-for-one prime rib nights. Mr. Ferran recalled how he and Mr. McMahon had crossed paths on the Southampton College campus.

“Our serious major was partying,” Mr. Ferran joked.

The men worked at a few local restaurants, including the Driver’s Seat, and eventually decided that they wanted to buy Barrister’s Restaurant, which had been open for about 18 months. They bought it and turned it into a thriving business.

“The guy before wasn’t very hands-on, but we were able to revive it,” Mr. Ferran said. “We went in and did everything. We tended bar, I cooked, and then our duties moved into different directions.”

Ms. McMahon said that although that period of her husband’s life was hectic—the two had married only about one year before Mr. McMahon began running the restaurant—he still had time for his family. “He balanced the business as well as he could when he was a young man,” Ms. McMahon said. “It’s a crazy business.”

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condolences to his family and friends
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Nov 6, 09 2:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
sending strength to his family and friends. He was a great guy and I worked for him years ago, such a fair and kind man!
By leavingli66 (8), southampton on Nov 6, 09 3:25 PM
My heart goes out to all of his family and friends. I had the privilege of working with him for the last two years. He was such a kind and light hearted person. He made work seem like fun. I will miss him greatly.
By cclan (2), Hampton Bays on Nov 6, 09 4:00 PM
Reast In Peace dear friend,,,,,all great BANQUETS have to come to an end
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Nov 6, 09 4:43 PM
It seems as if only the good are the ones that are taken away too soon. Ours is not to ask the reason why.
By local (106), north sea on Nov 6, 09 5:26 PM
Digger was well respected and admired. A sad loss for the whole community. Condolences to his family.
By ccsh (5), southampton on Nov 6, 09 6:18 PM
Condolences to his wife and boys. A well respected man will be missed.
By slamminsammy (104), East Moriches on Nov 6, 09 8:35 PM
Digger, it was a pleasure and honor to work for you, In both places. There are so many AMAZING memories, we had alot of fun over the years. Every time I stopped in, you were so genuinly happy to see me out and about. I will miss your laugh! Who is going to wipe down the waitress station and fold the bar towels? lol We will watch over Cupcake! We love you and will miss you.... Tully
By teeteeme (11), Water Mill on Nov 7, 09 1:39 AM
... an all around good guy .
My condolences to the family .
By AndersEn (174), Southampton on Nov 7, 09 11:00 AM
hey digger we all miss you and love you RIP you were a great friend and father
By fdny7318 (60), Water Mill on Nov 7, 09 12:33 PM
My condolences to family and friends of Mr. McMahon. May he rest in peace.
By LovedHerTown (132), southampton on Nov 7, 09 12:34 PM
what sad news, prayers and thoughts go out to his family and all the wonderful team at Barrister's. It doesn't seem possible that his amazing personality will not still be in the world. R.I.P. dear old friend.
By fowlersbeach (1), Atlanta on Nov 7, 09 12:59 PM
Have a great flight with the Angels..Some of the Best Halloween Parties inthe towns!
By gansetteer (125), East Hampton on Nov 11, 09 9:03 PM
DIOS tenga en su gloria a SENOR DIGGER (yo tuve mi primer trabajo en AMERICA en BARRISTERS en 1995) gracias!! Mark y LUCIA!!
By polito (14), wainscott on Nov 14, 09 8:31 AM
I never knew the owners always wondered if Digger was a local now I know. I lived my first 58 years in SH and remember the spot as Ann's luncheonet, etc, so I was very happy to see Barristers become such a nice place with good reasonable food. My visit to SH always includes at least one lunch or dinner there. My kids speak well of Digger I know he will be missed.
my condolences to his wonderful family.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Nov 17, 09 12:47 PM