A son of the Great Depression from southwest Minnesota, John W. Mooty rose to become one of the most powerful lawyers and businessmen in the Twin Cities.
He shepherded National Car Rental and International Dairy Queen through the second half of the 20th century, spearheaded one of the nation’s leading franchise law practices, brokered a sale of the Minnesota Vikings and developed real estate while busying himself with family and a raft of civic and nonprofit pursuits.
He died April 17 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 92, and was active to the end. “He had clients calling him two weeks ago,” said his son, Bruce Mooty.
The older of two sons born to a banker and teacher in Adrian, Minn., Mooty remembered as a boy in the Depression being sent to buy dinner for the family, but losing the dime he was given to pay for it. His family went without a meal that night, his son said, and the memory seared Mooty and gave him a drive for stewardship.
Mooty graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1944 and by 1954 was partner at the law firm where he stayed for 70 years, now called Gray Plant Mooty.
He married Virginia Mae “Ginny” Nelson in 1952, and the couple moved to Edina and had three boys — David, Bruce and Charles. Ginny died in 1964.
In the late 1950s, his brother-in-law, Ken Glaser, acquired the struggling National Car Rental. The firm was insolvent. Glaser enlisted Mooty as investor and general counsel, and transferred the headquarters to Minneapolis. Mooty negotiated a key agreement with General Motors, persuading the auto giant that they could do a deal without violating antitrust law. National stabilized and Mooty’s group sold the company in 1969.
A similar group of investors purchased a controlling interest in Dairy Queen in 1970, and Mooty set about reviving the large, struggling franchiser. He served as chairman for 20 years and helped arrange the sale to Berkshire Hathaway for $575 million in 1997.
Gray Plant Mooty’s expertise in franchise law allowed it to build a powerhouse practice with such clients as Great Clips, Carlson Cos., Play It Again Sports and Regis Corp.
Mooty could identify the essence of a problem, figure out what to do, and persuade others to join him, said Mike Sullivan Sr., who was president and CEO of Dairy Queen from 1987 to 2001 and a colleague of Mooty’s at Gray Plant Mooty.
“Always the perfect gentleman, a hell of a lawyer, a great businessman, just one of those people who continues to amaze you with what they can do and how they did it,” Sullivan said.
Mooty later brokered the 1998 sale of the Minnesota Vikings by a 10-member ownership group to Red McCombs after a bumpy auction. He also was actively involved in family farm operations in Iowa and Minnesota and was a key investor and director in Faribault Woolen Mill.
In 1972, he married Jane Nelson Glaser, his late wife’s sister and late business partner’s wife. Jane and Ken’s children, Barbara Glaser and Chip Glaser, joined an expanded family that now includes 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Despite his wealth, he did not live ostentatiously. “Things did not matter to him — he was not a natty dresser,” Bruce Mooty said. “He drove older cars.”
Mooty was active in the Minneapolis Rotary Club, the Citizens League and St. John’s Lutheran Church, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association and the University of Minnesota Law School. He was also a delegate to Republican Party national conventions.
He is survived by his wife, Jane, children and grandchildren. A funeral service will be Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. at Colonial Church of Edina.