My family moved to Sunnyside when I was four years old and left Sunnyside when I was nineteen and in my third year of college. Thus, my entire childhood was spent in Sunnyside. In retrospect, I consider it a happy childhood and my life in Sunnyside as a pleasant one. Like many children of that era, I was encouraged to take odd jobs irrespective of the family’s lack of financial need. Accordingly, I delivered telegrams for Western Union, sliced meats and made sandwiches at a local deli, had a newspaper route for the Long Island Star Journal and was a temporary salesman of suits and other clothing at Robert Hall. I resented all the jobs which, collectively, taught me only to never end up in such a job in my adult life.
After college, I went to Columbia Law School. Like all the schooling that I had, it was sometimes interesting and sometimes indifferent or downright boring. I was admitted to two Ivy League universities largely because I tested well but seem to have never performed as well as the test results predicted. Frankly, the tests were not defective but failed to measure my non-academic interests such as athletics, games of all sorts, and the opposite sex, all of which continually distracted me from the various curricula imposed upon me. I have pursued a life which had a strong element of play and fun.
After law school, I joined the US Army Reserve for six months of active duty, in preference to being drafted. Active duty was followed by 5 ½ years of reserve duty. I was in a General Hospital unit and eventually became the chief operating room technician. I stood next to the surgeons and passed instruments to them, a demanding job which not only fascinated me but led me to question, for the only time in my life, whether I had chosen the right profession. I rose to the level of sergeant. Ultimately, I received a commission as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps so that the balance of my reserve duty was spent as an attorney and not a medic. As soon as I became eligible to do so, I resigned my commission since I had better ways of spending my time as a lawyer.
My first job as a lawyer was at a law firm composed of about 40 lawyers. I hated the discipline of the job and the knowledge that I would not have any real responsibilities for literally years. I left and joined my father in his small firm of several lawyers who were loosely affiliated with one another. This was my real training ground. For the next 14 years, I did everything. I practiced law in multiple areas and performed many different tasks. I interviewed clients, handled litigations from start to finish, drafted many different kinds of corporate and legal documents, prosecuted and defended appeals, handled estates, counseled clients on a variety of legal matters, handled many matrimonial matters and I became a general practitioner, a species of lawyer who no longer exists in Manhattan for all practical purposes. My father mentored me throughout this process and took the time that only a father would do.
In the interim, other events in my life occurred. At Thanksgiving in 1964, on a blind date, I met Carol Lynn Arndt, then a Senior at Bryn Mawr College. During that first date, we discovered that we had both attended the same summer camp at the same time. This was a very special bond since the couple who owned and operated the camp were unique people. They not only operated a summer camp with the usual camp activities but tried to instill in all of us ethical values. People who attended this camp were special and lifelong friendships were formed there. Eventually, I became the lawyer for this couple and was proud to have been selected by them as their lawyer and as a trustee under their Wills.
After only four or five dates, Carol and I each knew that we were intended for each other and simultaneously came to the understanding that we would marry soon. We married on October 10, 1965. Could such a marriage work, with the principals knowing so little about each other and about life in general? I guess so since next month, we celebrate our 51st wedding anniversary. Carol has been a consistent and devoted wife who has helped me in every imaginable way, including in my legal writing and in my career.
In 1970, we had our first and only child, a daughter Jessica. Carol bore the laboring oar in raising her but I contributed heavily to many of the tasks and her intellectual and emotional growth. Jessica became an academic superstar, thereby unwittingly fulfilling all the promise that my parents had reserved for me. She graduated summa cum laude, first in her class from Bryn Mawr College. Her graduation was one of the happiest days of my life. She went on to get a Ph.D. from Stanford University and is now a full professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, married to another full professor, also in the English Department. Her CV is about six pages long and I am proud of her on a daily basis for so many things including how she makes me feel that her life and existence is also partially an accomplishment of mine.
In 1977, I broke up my father’s firm since he was ill with diabetes and continuing in practice was not an option for him. In addition, the firm had not grown as I had envisioned and it became economically unfeasible for me to continue to labor in a vineyard which was not productive. I then became a partner in an existing law firm, Kantor, Davidoff, with about ten lawyers and which was fairly well known despite its relatively small size. I ended up spending 36 years there during which time I became an excellent litigator and continued to do other things as well, as I had done as a general practitioner.
In the course of my 36 years at Kantor, Davidoff I sharpened all of my skills as a litigator, while performing in other areas of the practice of law. I also developed, enlarged and strengthened my clientele. I also worked for clients of the firm originated by other lawyers. I felt a real sense of confidence in my abilities as a lawyer and the talents that I had developed were recognized by other lawyers both within the firm and in other firms. The clients too generally valued my advice and services. While I did not have the opportunity to work on any cases of public significance, I was generally successful in those cases that I did work on and felt proud of the accomplishments of becoming known for both my intelligence and my integrity. Several other lawyers in the firm considered me the best lawyer in the firm, and said so, and when the senior and managing partner retired, I was elected as president of the firm. However, his retirement left a void in several areas and disputes soon developed within the firm. Unexpectedly, an opportunity arose for me to become a partner in another firm. Carol and I pondered whether I was up to making such a move at the age of 74 but she gave me the chance of doing so, advising me that if it failed to work out, we had enough assets for me to retire.
In September of 2013, I became a partner in Eaton & Van Winkle and three years later, I am still here, a respected member of the firm. This firm has about 40 lawyers and is the same size as the very first firm I worked for. However, there is little of the regimentation I found disturbing then and after more than fifty years of practicing law, I require no mentoring or supervision. I still come into the office on most Saturdays so I must love what I do since there is no compulsion to work six days a week. When people speak to me about retirement, I say “OK, I will not go to the office on Saturdays.”
My only pro bono work was serving as a Commissioner on the original New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities. After two years of investigation we issued a report which concluded that in virtually all interactions with the judicial system, minority members of the populace were continually at a disadvantage. While I had made private contributions to charities which promoted the rights of minorities, the service of this commission did a great deal to highlight and correct a systemic injustice.
My other interests have included amateur photography, philately, tennis, card playing, as an "amateur de vin" and collector, reading history, especially about World War II and the Holocaust, and foreign travel which has taken me to four other continents. I’ve been busy.
New York, 2016
Carol and Steve in Egypt