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Marvin Comisky, Law-Field Giant, Dies at 92

November 18, 2010 By:
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Marvin Comisky, a pre-eminent icon in the local legal community for some 50 years, died on Nov. 12 at the age of 92.

Described by cohorts as a lawyer's lawyer, he was a founding partner and ultimately chairman emeritus of Blank Rome (which he joined in 1959), as well as one-time head of the local and state bar associations.

Comisky was still active into his later years. He was even feted on his 90th birthday at the law firm's Center City offices, and reportedly had no trouble blowing out the candles.

On that birthday, Comisky was described by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as a visionary civic leader who "helped to forward the cause of abolishing religious segregation" in local legal circles.

Comisky's legal career started 68 years ago, when he was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar a year after earning his degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. At Blank Rome, he was instrumental not only in its growth as a national power player, but noted for his farsightedness, focusing on new and challenging areas that would reshape the legal landscape.

He was credited with creating a family-style feeling at his law firm, which eventually hit home.

His sons, Ian and Matthew, are both partners at Blank Rome; daughter Hope is a partner at the law office of Pepper Hamilton.

Having a legend for a father never meant family life was lived in the spotlights.

Indeed, son Matthew recalls: "He was a legend at the Bar, but he never took his work home with him -- so business was generally handled at the office, and home was for family. Every Friday night growing up we had Shabbat dinner at our house, and each of us had a chance to talk about something positive during our week. To me, he was first and foremost a great father."

Under Comisky's stewardship, the Philadelphia Bar Association addressed itself to the national call for a "war on poverty" by assuring "the availability of legal services to the poor throughout the city," said Scott F. Cooper, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Calling Comisky "a man of great compassion and unimpeachable ethics," Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia president Leonard Barrack, senior and founding partner of Barrack, Rodos & Bacine, recognized him as "a giant in the legal profession" who "truly set the bar for all of us who followed in his footsteps."

Ande Adelman, chief community-development officer of the Jewish Federation, worked alongside Comisky in his role as trustee of the Solomon and Sylvia Bronstein Foundation, whose domain extends to such Federation programs as the Mitzvah Food Project.

Adelman considered the philanthropist/humanitarian "a highly intelligent, caring and honorable man who believed in equal rights for everyone."

Other Jewish connections included being a longtime member of the board of American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

Alan J. Hoffman, co-chair of Blank Rome, recalled him as a mensch, a giant and a gem "in every way," who took the company from "infancy to 11 cities to an international law firm -- all attributable to him."

He was, said Hoffman, a man for whom the firm's epicenter, its conference center, is appropriately named "The Marv."

In addition to his sons and daughter, Comisky is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Goldye Elving, with whom he shared residences in Jenkintown and Palm Beach, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

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