Herbert F. Kolsby, 94, of Philadelphia, a nationally respected attorney who took on major corporations on behalf of everyman clients, died Saturday, May 1, of respiratory failure at Delray Medical Center in Florida.
A founding partner of the Philadelphia law firm Kolsby, Gordon, Robin & Shore, Mr. Kolsby built a more than 50-year career by successfully standing up for people seriously injured by powerful, well-funded companies. His clients included a woman who developed cancer after her mother took DES, an antinausea drug, prescribed during pregnancy, and Teddy Pendergrass, a Philadelphia R&B singer, who sued Rolls-Royce after he was paralyzed in a one-car crash.
“Herb was always a champion of the injured individual and the rights of the individual and their families going against auto manufacturers and drug manufacturers where they had unlimited resources to defend themselves,” said law partner Mitchell Shore. “He had incredible results over his career starting in 1951.”
Another law partner, F. Philip Robin, said Mr. Kolsby took on legal battles other lawyers wouldn’t touch.
“Herb got excited by difficult cases,” Robin said. “Difficult cases got him juiced up. Cases that got turned down by other people, cases everybody thought were impossible — that was his challenge. If there was a seriously injured person, Herb didn’t care what the odds were.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Mr. Kolsby was the elder son of Leonard and Josephine Kolsby, who struggled to provide for their family through the Great Depression. He attended Overbrook High School, where he met his future wife, Hermine Wilson, in the 10th grade. They had three children and were married 72 years, until Mrs. Kolsby died in January.
Mr. Kolsby attended Temple University but enlisted in the Army during World War II before he graduated. When he returned home, he was accepted to Temple’s law school even though he was a few credits short for his undergraduate degree. Law school proved challenging, and Mr. Kolsby had concerns about not having a degree, said son Paul Kolsby. When he graduated first in his law school class in 1951, he stopped worrying about the undergraduate degree, his son said.
Mr. Kolsby earned a reputation as an exceptional orator who never spoke from notes, a dignified presence who wore bow ties and conservative suits and masterfully commanded a courtroom’s attention. He was said to have a repertoire of thousands of jokes he employed with success in and out of court.
A gifted law professor and mentor to many young lawyers, Mr. Kolsby helped create Temple’s master’s program in trial advocacy. He has been honored by a Distinguished Lectureship in his name.
He was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been listed in the Best Lawyers in America.
And in 1993, he received the prestigious Michael A. Musmanno Award given to persons “best exemplifying the same high integrity, courage and concern for human rights as exhibited” by the late Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.
He was a dedicated fund-raiser for the State of Israel, and had served as president of Temple Adath Israel in Merion.
Mr. Kolsby read the New York Times from cover to cover every day and would often quiz his son on various stories of the day.
“He was as sharp the day before he died as he was in his prime,” Paul Kolsby said.
And his passion for justice never waned.
“If a thing wasn’t right, it wasn’t right and he was going to fight for it,” his son said. “I was always aware the other side was Goliath, and my father was representing David.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Kolsby is survived by another son, Robert; a daughter, Dana Edenbaum; five grandchildren; two great-grandsons; a brother; and other relatives and friends.
A service was held Tuesday, May 4.
Memorial donations may given to a charity of one’s choice.