A graduate of Central High School in 1950, Becker moved on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania in 1954. After law school at Yale, he became a partner in a law practice with his father and brother-in-law.
Becker, a member of Congregation Keneseth Israel for 34 years, married Flora Lyman in 1957, and the couple raised four children.
Despite his rising status in the city, he lived and died in the same Frankford house where he grew up. He could often be seen reading legal briefs on the El as he commuted to work.
"He was very much a Philadelphian," said his wife.
At the age of 37, Becker was appointed to the federal bench in Philadelphia; by 1982, he was appointed to the Third Circuit. He served as its chief justice from 1998 until 2003.
"Judge Becker was renowned for his legal intellect and his passion for Philadelphia," said Mayor John Street, who honored Becker by lowering all city flags to half-mast on May 20, via his press office. "He was a civic leader in the finest Philadelphia tradition."
His wife agreed with the mayor's assessment: "He was fair; he never had an agenda. He took each case and evaluated it. The amazing result was that he was cited constantly by the Supreme Court, and he was followed by them in many of his decisions."
After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the 500 block of Chestnut Street – just in front of Independence Hall – was closed by the National Park Service for security reasons. Becker led the "Coalition to Free Chestnut Street" to successfully reopen the thoroughfare after being cordoned off for 19 months. After his death, the city decided to temporarily rename the block in his honor.
"Gov. [Ed] Rendell and I agreed, it is fitting and appropriate that the city honor Judge Becker," said Street. "His leadership on this issue involving our liberty and freedom epitomized his public service to Philadelphia for 40 years. He will be missed but his impact on the city will never be forgotten."
After 2003, Becker remained on the Third Circuit as a senior judge. He also backed the confirmation of former Third Circuit Judge Samuel A. Alito to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Becker's college buddy at Penn, lamented the passing of such a great legal mind.
"He became one of America's most respected and admired judges, and was one of the greatest Philadelphians in our city's history," wrote Specter's office in an e-mail.
In addition to his wife, Becker is survived by sons Charles Becker and Jonathan Becker; daughter Susan Rubin; sister Rhoda Fryman; and four grandchildren. Another son, James Becker, died in 1969.