Marvin Comisky, 92, a major figure in the Philadelphia legal community for decades who was chairman emeritus of the law firm of Blank, Rome and former head of the Philadelphia and state bar associations, died Friday, Nov. 12 at home in Jenkintown.
"Marvin Comisky was a pioneer in the legal profession and a natural-born leader who exemplified the ideals of personal character, keen intellect, and professional commitment," said Scott F. Cooper, a Blank Rome partner who is chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Mr. Comisky headed the litigation department of Blank, Rome, Comisky, & McCauley in the 1960s and later became a managing partner and then chairman of the firm that by the 1980s was the city's second largest firm with 208 lawyers in offices in Philadelphia, Miami, and West Palm Beach, Fla.
Though he officially retired in 1994, lawyers still contacted him for advice until he was well into his 80s, said his son Ian. He attended a meeting at the law firm as recently as last month, said his son, who is a partner at Blank Rome.
As chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association in 1965, Mr. Comisky initiated a program to provide services for the poor and "made it his mission" to make the bar more diverse, Ian Comisky said. At the time law firms were segregated by religion and race and few firms hired women, his son said.
When Mr. Comisky became president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 1970, he called for "a 'Manhattan Project' approach to the war on crime in which crime prevention, apprehension, trial, sentencing, correction, probation, and rehabilitation are merged under a solitary unit of control in a humanist approach."
In a tribute printed in the law magazine The Shingle in 1965, William Rudenko said of his partner, "Marvin is a realist who has never lost his idealism. He is a compromiser who despises mere expediency. He is forthright and decisive. Although he can be, and often is, not only firm but stubborn after making up his mind, he tolerates and respects differing opinions."
According to Rudenko, Mr. Comisky was devoted to the reform of criminal law and served on criminal procedural rules committees, citing a run-in of his own.
In 1943, while in the Army, Mr. Comisky received a weekend pass to travel from Harrisburg, where he was stationed, home to Philadelphia. On the train military police checked the pass and discovered that it had been dated for the weekend before.
Despite his protest that he was the victim of a clerical error, he was arrested as AWOL. Denied the right to make a phone call, he spent the night in a military jail. His worried family finally contacted the police who got in touch with his commanding officer and he was released "haggard, hungry, and shaken," Rudenko wrote.
Mr. Comisky grew up in South Philadelphia and graduated from Central High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Temple University and was a scholarship student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After graduating he received a Gowen Fellowship to study for additional years. He then was a law clerk to a superior court judge in Philadelphia.
During World War II he served in the Army in the states. After his discharge, he clerked for a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge. He then practiced law with Lemuel B. Scholfield and later was in a partnership with John B. Brumbelow. In 1959 he and Brumbelow joined the firm of Blank, Rudenko, Klaus, & Rome. The firm would later become Blank, Rome, Comisky, & Rome and is now Blank Rome.
Mr. Comisky and his wife, Goldye Elving Comisky, divided their time between homes in Jenkintown and Palm Beach, Fla.
In addition to his son and wife of 64 years, he is survived by another son Matthew, a partner at Blank Rome; a daughter Hope, who is a partner with the law firm of Pepper Hamilton; and six grandchildren.
A funeral will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, at Beth Sholom Congregation 8231 Old York Rd., Elkins Park.