It is with sadness and a heavy heart that we share the news that our dear friend, former partner, and role model Bill Coleman has passed away. Bill, of course, was a titan in the legal community whose impact and influence both within Dilworth and beyond cannot be overstated. Brilliant, driven, courageous, compassionate and moved deeply by an abiding belief that it is up to each of us to remake the world as it should be, Bill defined in word and deed what it means to be a counselor.
The achievements of William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. are far too numerous to be catalogued in their entirety here, but suffice it to say, Bill’s professional life was exceptional from the very first. A graduate of Harvard Law School (where he was a member of the Law Review and graduated first in his class) and a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, as an African American, Bill nevertheless could not find work at a major Philadelphia law firm until Dilworth hired him in 1952. While at Dilworth, Bill was a principal author of the Plaintiff’s briefs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, and would go on to argue numerous times before the Supreme Court over the course of his career.
By the time Bill left Dilworth in 1975 to become President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Transportation, he had already earned a reputation as one of the greatest litigators in Pennsylvania history. After his tenure in the Ford administration, Bill returned to private practice with continuous distinction and great success. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton, and would later serve as an honorary pallbearer during the state funeral of President Ford.
Whether we had the pleasure to know him personally or simply had the honor to share a common association with Dilworth Paxson, Bill’s legacy still serves as a moral compass in our firm and in our profession writ large. Bill will be remembered fondly by many, in as many different ways. But he was to us, above all, a singular figure in the law and an inspiration to all who find our avocation in the pursuit of justice.
Dilworth Paxson Chairman and CEO