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Isaac H. Clothier IV, great-grandson of Strawbridge & Clothier cofounder, and longtime attorney, dies at 89

He excelled for 40 years as an attorney at Dechert LLP for trust and estate cases. He was a good listener, and had a knack for resolving conflict.

Mr. Clothier was a talented negotiator. “He made people feel like they were heard,” said his son, Isaac “Chip” Clothier V.
Mr. Clothier was a talented negotiator. “He made people feel like they were heard,” said his son, Isaac “Chip” Clothier V.Read moreFile photo

Isaac H. Clothier IV, 89, of Bryn Mawr, the great-grandson and namesake of the cofounder of Strawbridge & Clothier, a longtime director on the family-run company’s board, and a retired attorney and partner at Dechert LLP, died Monday, Aug. 16, at the Beaumont at Bryn Mawr retirement community of complications after a stroke.

Four generations removed from Isaac H. Clothier, who partnered with Justuce C. Strawbridge to open the Philadelphia-based department store in 1868, Mr. Clothier, as a longtime board member, was one of his family’s public voices in 1996 when the company was finally sold to May Department Stores.

Using what he referred to as reliable “Quaker consensus,” but noting that “it was very painful for me,” he helped steer the founding families through their unhappy shedding of the company they had created and nurtured for 128 years. In July 1996, at a somber news conference, Mr. Clothier praised the four top managers, all Strawbridges, for their roles in the difficult sale.

“This has been a very painful time for them,” he said. “It felt like being stabbed in the heart. I could go back to my firm, do my work and be distracted. But they could not. They have conducted themselves in the most extraordinary way.”

He also addressed the disappointed employees. “I wish, to every employee, a bright future and a happy life,” he said.

Generally pleasant, consistently principled, and wired for collaboration, Mr. Clothier also excelled for 40 years as an attorney at Dechert for trust and estate cases. He was a good listener and had a knack for resolving conflict.

“He made people feel like they were heard,” said his son, Isaac “Chip” Clothier V.

» READ MORE: Clothiers gather at historic family home in Riverton

Nicknamed Quartie — IV in Latin is quattuor — Mr. Clothier was an active board member at Bryn Mawr Hospital, the Shipley School, the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Melmark special education school in Berwyn, and Trevor’s Campaign for the Philadelphia homeless.

He taught Sunday school lessons to sixth graders at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr for 15 years and served as a senior church official.

“His religious spirit of patience and respect for others was inspiring,” a colleague wrote in an online tribute. “He handled everything, from the most minute to the most dreadful, with grace and poise.”

Born July 14, 1932, in Philadelphia, Mr. Clothier attended Chestnut Hill Academy and graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., in 1950. He played three sports in high school, was a vice president of the student government, and won the first Rector’s Award at St. Paul’s.

He graduated with a degree in Middle Eastern studies from Princeton University in 1954 and from law school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957. After four decades, he retired from Dechert in the late 1990s.

At Strawbridge & Clothier, he chaired the audit and compensation committees from 1974 until the final sale in 1996.

“He was a warm, caring and intelligent man whom everyone respected and admired,” a former colleague wrote in an online post.

Another wrote, “He was a gentleman’s gentleman who always had a kind and thoughtful word for everyone.”

A lifelong student, Mr. Clothier studied Shakespeare as an adult, learned to refinish furniture, and took up wind surfing when he was 50. The family spent many summers at Eagles Mere in northeastern Pennsylvania, and Mr. Clothier liked to sail and hike in the mountains.

“He had such enthusiasm, and always wanted to try new things,” his son said.

One old friend wrote in a note to Mr. Clothier’s son that he showed “love, conviction, and principle” in all his dealings, and was an example of “strength and perspective” for others.

“He was an excellent model for me,” his son said.

In addition to his son, Mr. Clothier is survived by Barbara, his wife of 66 years; daughter Rebecca Clothier Case; eight grandchildren; one great-grandson; and other relatives. Daughter Melinda Clothier Biddle and two brothers died earlier.

A service is to be Saturday, Oct. 23, at 11 a.m. at the Church of the Redeemer, 230 Pennswood Rd., Bryn Mawr.

Donations in his name may be made to the Shipley School, 814 Yarrow St., Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010, and Bryn Mawr Hospital, 130 S. Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010.