James F. Kilcur, 62, a labor lawyer who had been a top official at SEPTA, died Wednesday, Feb. 19, of leukemia at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The West Chester resident worked at SEPTA for 16 years, serving as general counsel and acting general manager.
He had been a partner at Saul Ewing since 1995, specializing in labor law and representing SEPTA management in labor negotiations.
"He gave you good advice and was a very steadying influence," said Pasquale "Pat" Deon Sr., chairman of the SEPTA board. "He was a great lawyer."
Mr. Kilcur was SEPTA's top lawyer in 1987, when he was selected to serve as general manager after the newly hired general manager, William Stead, abruptly quit after five weeks on the job. Stead, who had been hired from San Francisco's transit agency, became embroiled in a bitter struggle with suburban Republican members of the SEPTA board and resigned after he said he received a telephone death threat.
Mr. Kilcur, an unassuming, friendly man, brought a measure of calm to the rancorous SEPTA management for nearly a year during a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
In 1988, SEPTA hired retired New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Louis Gambaccini as general manager, and Mr. Kilcur returned to the general counsel post.
"There was a lot of turmoil in the agency and at the board level at the time," said SEPTA's current general manager, Joseph Casey. "Jim was the right person for the job. . . . He handled all kinds of matters, and he treated everyone with respect.
"He was a very reasonable and fair individual," said Casey, adding that Mr. Kilcur's death "is hitting the SEPTA family pretty hard."
Even after leaving SEPTA in 1995, Mr. Kilcur remained active in the agency's labor negotiations, serving as a liaison to the SEPTA board.
At Saul Ewing, he specialized in advising employers on labor issues, especially in the transportation and construction industries, said Fred Strober, a longtime colleague at the firm.
"He was an incredibly committed and focused person, who always remained calm and never got flustered, with a great sense of humor," Strober said. "He was the ultimate reasoned counselor."
Mr. Kilcur was born in Northeast Philadelphia to Rita and James Kilcur Sr. He was a varsity basketball player at Cardinal Dougherty High School, and he remained close to many of his grade school and high school friends for the rest of his life, his family said.
He was chairman of the board of trustees of his alma mater, DeSales University in Center Valley, at the time of his death. He received his law degree in 1977 from Widener University School of Law.
In the summer before his final year of law school, on June 5, 1976, Mr. Kilcur met his future wife, Maria Theresa Cheiffo, on the dance floor of the Bongo Room in Avalon.
"I was wearing a T-shirt with my name on it, and he came up and said, 'Hey, Terry, do you want to dance?' and I thought, 'How does he know my name?' " she recalled with a laugh Friday. "I forgot about the shirt."
They married in 1979.
Mr. Kilcur was active in the lives of his three sons, James III, Patrick, and Matthew. He coached their youth sports teams, advised them on career choices, and modeled an attitude of fairness and humility, they said Friday.
"He was very humble," James said. "He was a regular guy, he enjoyed his Scotch or beer, and could pretty much relate to anyone. He was never judgmental. And he could say a lot without talking a lot."
A devout Catholic, an avid golfer, and an active fund-raiser for the March of Dimes, he was also the Pennsylvania counsel for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by his sister, Marguerite Eagan; a granddaughter; and two nephews.
A viewing will be held 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, 300 Daly Dr., West Chester, and from 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary Magdalen Church, 2430 N. Providence Rd., Media. A Funeral Mass will follow at St. Mary Magdalen.
Contributions may be made to DeSales University, 2755 Station Ave., Center Valley, Pa. 18034.