John Moran
John Moran

Friends and colleagues of John Moran II met as they usually do at York City's Central Market on Tuesday.

But instead of Moran talking about anything and everything, they crowded around a few tables that were pushed together and spoke about Moran's life.

Moran, a local attorney, died in his sleep Sunday night or Monday morning at his Hellam Township home. He was 66.

While most knew Moran for the job he held, his friends knew him as a Renaissance man who had a number of hobbies, some of which were eccentric, and his kindness.

"He did everything he wanted to do and nothing he didn't want to do," said longtime friend and York County Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness. "He was the most successful person I know because he did everything he wanted to do."

In a word, Moran's friends said he was gentleman through and through.

Bid for Congress: Moran left his native Baltimore after finishing law school in the mid 1970s and drove north to a place he'd never been to before - York City - and set up shop practicing law, said Ness, who met Moran 37 years ago.

In 2000, when the congressional seat to represent York County opened, Moran, a Democrat, took a stab at politics. He came in third place overall in the primary and Todd Platts went on to win the November election and to hold the office for 12 years.

In what was likely Moran's most high-profile case, he represented Rick Knouse, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the Lillie Belle Allen case in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Knouse became a key witness and testified that former York City Mayor Charlie Robertson gave him ammunition and urged him to kill blacks. Robertson was acquitted of a murder charge in the case. Knouse died in 2005.

Hobbies: The larger-than-life Moran was the kind of man who took on hobbies that struck his interest and quickly believed he had mastered them.

When he and Ness wanted to try their hands at skiing, the pair went to Roundtop Mountain Resort one weekend for lessons.

"So we flew to Aspen three days later," Ness said with a laugh.

Skiing wasn't the only hobby to draw Moran's attention. When he told his friend and fellow attorney Farley Holt that he wanted to become a racecar driver, Holt told him "he'd kill himself."

Nonetheless, Moran took up the hobby and owned two racecars. Holt uttered those same words to Moran when he learned Moran wanted to play polo about 15 years ago.

"He wanted to be a sailor, so he bought a boat," Ness said.

Moran usually took his loyal companion, a Jack Russell terrier named Buster, with him on his adventures.

"He'd go to court and the dog would bark until he saw John coming up the alley," Holt said.

But there was another side to Moran. He was a painter, a poet and a writer. Shawn Moran described his brother as an "ultra Bohemian."

Karen Mueller, a former girlfriend who remained good friends with John Moran, said he came up with an idea to make his own wine, so he planted a vineyard on his farm about three years ago.

Humor: About three years ago, John Moran suffered a heart attack, was clinically dead and was put into a coma.

When he woke from the long, induced sleep, a nurse was checking his cognition when he picked up a pen and wrote on a notepad, "I'm George Bailey and I'm fine," a reference to "It's a Wonderful Life," said attorney and friend Andrew Brown.

"Even when knocking on death's door he had a sense of humor," Holt said.

About that same time, John Moran, who was never married, met his 23-year-old son for the first time and developed a strong relationship with him.

"He (John Moran) was excited because he never had to change a diaper," Ness said.

As part of his then newfound love of polo, John Moran read a book about the sport written by an Irishman in the 1950s. The book included an invitation by the author for readers to look him up if they are ever in the country.

On a trip to Ireland, John Moran, who held dual U.S.-Irish citizenship, looked up the man, who was elderly by then, and paid him a visit.

"He (John Moran) talked him into letting him stay the night instead of getting a hotel room," Ness said.

- Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.