R. Stuart Huff

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(Editor’s Note: Stuart Huff was the son-in-law of Natalie Breithaupt Zygmuntowicz of Miami, Florida. Natalie was reared on Old River in LaSalle Parish and Stuart visited here many times with relatives.)
 
R. Stuart Huff, 71, passed away at his favorite place on earth, his home on the Gables Waterway, where he had fished so many days as a boy. Except for a couple of years when his family lived in South Carolina, he attended all schools from kindergarten through high school in the Gables. In high school he was a brother in the famous (then) Ching Tang Fraternity, whose brothers, even 50 and 60 years later, hold frequent small reunions or attend memorial services around the country, to drink, reminisce and assure themselves that there never was a finer group of brothers in history. This modesty has bound them together and whenever the pipes begin calling, the “Chink” clan gathers. After high school, Stuart headed for college, self-impressed and overconfident. He didn’t need to attend classes; he’d just show up for exams and get good grades. This theory had flaws, and eventually he flunked out of school. That presented the chance to do what he really had wanted all along: He enlisted for 6 years in the U.S. Marines. While legend has it that Marine recruits fear and loathe their drill instructors, Stuart thought his was the best in the Corps. The admiration was mutual and Stuart was one of the few Marines promoted in rank while still in boot camp. Forty years later, he searched out his drill instructor, and the two began a pen pal friendship until the latter’s death last year. Stuart was sent to the Marine detachment on a huge carrier which took him to ports in Spain, Italy, Greece and to the French Riviera, and when a few days off ship could be wrangled, he hopped a train to Rome or Paris, Monaco (watched the 1965 Grand Prix race there) or Madrid. From the aircraft carrier, Stuart joined a battalion landing team based on a small Caribbean island where the conditions were far from those of Paris or Monaco, yet this is the Corps that old Marines remember. Although the Marines didn’t become Stuart’s career, he had the highest esteem for the Marine “lifers”, isolated in barracks around the world, carrying all they owned in their canvas sea bags, lavishing more attention on their rifles than on humans, living their own code. When he returned stateside, the Marines decided to have him instruct new Marines. Based on strong swimming abilities, the Corps picked him and ten other senior sergeants to report to the huge pool at Parris Island to learn the new “drown proofing” water survival method developed at Georgia Tech. The course required that the ten trainee sergeants be pushed into 12 feet of water fully dressed, hogtied by rope with ankles lashed together high up the back, then tied to the wrists behind the back. The object was not to slip the ropes like Houdini, but to have the mental control to wait for the air in the lungs to slowly raise the body to the surface where a tiny gulp of air could be found. The whole idea terrified Stuart. “Why didn’t I try harder in college?” he wondered. But he was one of the few who passed the course. His final instructor’s role was at the Infantry Training Regiment in North Carolina. In those days, all new Marines went by bus directly from boot camp to another month of learning what Marines use in combat. In those bygone days, flamethrowers, hand grenades, rocket launchers and M-60 machine guns were the stock. A group of about five senior sergeants, teaching as a team, trained every new Marine, so, during that time every new Marine east of the Mississippi, maybe thousands of them, got their combat weapons training from Stuart’s little band of buddies. Most of those new Marines then went directly to line (combat) companies and on to Vietnam. Stuart decided to earn some real money in the civilian world, and he left the Marines. In short order, he was pulling down a hefty $1.60 an hour as an armed guard. He enrolled again in college, so his routine was 8 a.m. start class, 2 p.m. change into uniform, 3 p.m. report to work on Miami Beach, midnight sign out and drive home to sleep before 8:00 a.m. class. Life in the Marines was fondly remembered. Eventually, he scraped into law school and graduated. On graduation, he was confident that his talent would soon bring fame and success. He leased the Penthouse office of a class C building on Flagler Street, hired a secretary, and waited for clients to pile in. No one came or called. Stuart read the newspaper and his secretary watched TV. He drained his savings and lost money. His luck turned when he was presented with a case that had no chance of success. But clients weren’t exactly pounding on the door, so Stuart agreed to take the case. Trial preparation went well until the morning of trial. In the courthouse lobby Stuart learned that the Defendant had hired Marion Sibley who was Florida’s most famed and connected trial lawyer to try the case. Judges hurried over to shake the 80 year old Sibley’s hand, “great to see you, Mr. Sibley,” etc. Mr. Sibley was royalty. Stuart felt a bit like when he heard about being hogtied in deep water at Parris Island. Somehow Stuart won the case and went on to a career of trials in which he represented the little guy or small company done wrong by a large company. Sitting at the defense tables might be F.P.L., Post Newsweek, Miami Herald, U.S. Government, State of Florida (several times), Capital Bank, Bank of America, Winn Dixie, Costco, Southern Bell, Hilton Hotels, St. Joe Paper Company, Humana, Toyota or a motley assortment of real estate con men and others, all with high priced lawyers. Stuart didn’t win them all, but he won his share. He won Florida’s first case for theft of trade secrets (vs. F.P.L.). In 1982 he met the great woman of his life – his wife Susan – and they bought a new Bertram sport fisherman. Stuart fished the marlin tournament scene in the Bahamas off and on through the mid 90’s. For a few years he was a member of the private Cat Cay Club in the Bahamas. His best finish was first place at Walker’s Cay and third place in the final Bahamas standings in 1985. His name is not mentioned with reverence around the Bahamas docks. It is not mentioned at all, but he loved that ambiance. When Stuart was diagnosed with cancer months ago, he told his wife he would not accept an ending in a gown with arms filled with tubes, needles and bandages. After a round of radiation and chemotherapy failed, he declined further medical care. He was sitting up reading a good book, laid it down, closed his eyes and left on his own terms. In his senior year at Coral Gables High his classmates voted him “most original” in the senior class. To many who knew him, that fit his life well. Semper Fi, Marines. Onward & Upward, Chinks. He is survived by his loving wife of 23 years, Susan Zygmuntowicz Huff; his in-laws, Frank & Natalie Zygmuntowicz; sister-in-laws, Beth Zygmuntowicz and Kathy Shoenfelt (Rob); brother-inlaw, John Zygmuntowicz and wife Carol; four nieces and one nephew. He was predeceased by his parents, Russell & Viola Huff, and his brother, Barry Huff. Private services were held. In his memory, donations may be made to The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation at 3800 Fettler Park Drive, Suite 104, Dumfries, VA 22025.
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