February 22, 2006
A little over a year after Simon Uhl passed away, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a Code of Civility for attorneys. Someone around here noted that if every lawyer in Pennsylvania had an opportunity to spend an hour or two in the presence of Simon Uhl and Bob Critchfield, we wouldn’t need a written set of rules. If you acted like them, you behaved with civility.
A dictionary definition of civility is “formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech.” Civility encompasses courtesy, politeness, good manners, graciousness, consideration and respect.
Although civility is more than good manners, Simon Uhl’s manners were impeccable. I have vivid memories of Mr. and Mrs. Uhl at restaurants with Allison and Albert Kelley after Mrs. Uhl started having difficulty walking without assistance. Simon was well past ninety and Mrs. Uhl used a walker. The way that he tended to her, not in a showy or obvious manner, letting her do what she could, but with due regard for her needs, lending an arm where necessary and making sure that she was comfortable, is to me the model of how people should treat each other.
Simon was a true gentleman. He certainly looked the part. His appearance didn’t change much in the years that I knew him, and he dressed well. Mrs. Uhl had an elegant wardrobe and they were a handsome couple. Although he was always well turned out and walked with a military bearing, Simon was never stiff or formal. He was a very approachable man who had a genuine knack for finding some common ground with everyone he met. Our connection was that we both practiced law with our Dads and the fact that our birthdays fell within a few days of each other. I’ll never forget a conversation with him on the occasion of my 47th birthday, which followed his 94th by a few days, when he told me, without irony, that this would definitely be the last time in my career that I would be able to say there was a lawyer in town who was twice as old as me. Starting with his father’s admission to the bar, there was an Uhl practicing law Somerset County for 103 consecutive years. He loved his birthdays and was proud of his longevity. Today would have been his 103 birthday, and he would not be twice as old as me.
His ability to connect with people served Mr. Uhl very well. It was obvious that people liked him wherever he went.
I learned of Simon’s respect for the feelings of his fellow man from members of the generation of soldiers and sailors who had fought in the Pacific theater during WWII. By the end of the war, he had a very high-ranking staff position with an admiral on the West coast, and as our fighting men returned from the Pacific theater, it was no coincidence that Somerset Countians were singled out for royal treatment when they arrived back on American soil. Most of these soldiers and sailors didn’t know Si before this but they never forgot the fact that he appreciated them for what they had done and where they were from.
Mr. Uhl had a very strong interest in the outside world and remained engaged in public affairs, the stock market and all sorts of other things throughout his entire life. I can picture him arriving for Saturday lunch at the Country Club with his buddies with the Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm. He used to say he had to check to see if his stocks were up to know if he could afford to buy soup with his sandwich that day.
He enjoyed all sorts of activities. I will never forget seeing him and Bob Critchfield on their mopeds scooting all over Somerset County. Simon had to be 80 years old. They were the world’s most civilized motorcycle gang.
One way the dictionary defines respect is “due regard” to the feelings and thoughts of others. I think this is the reason why he was so easy to meet and know and appreciate. He easily found a way to connect with people and show an appreciation for what interested them. Once he had that connection, he had something to talk to you about whenever he saw you. There was always an acknowledgment of your presence, a wave or a salute, to let you know he knew you were around.
It is fitting that we are implementing a bequest in his Will today in dedicating the attorneys’ meeting room here in the Courthouse. Simon’s generous bequest, in the memory of his father and mentor Charles F. Uhl, was drafted many years before the Supreme Court’s Code and was intended to be used to “promote professionalism, civility and education” among and for the members of the Somerset County Bar Association. It has taken several years but the actual planning and execution of this project have provided a process and opportunity for the members of the Bar to work together cooperatively for a common goal with due regard for Simon’s wishes. He would be pleased to know it was all done with civility. We have a dignified, comfortable place where lawyers can meet, use the video facilities for education, and go about the business of being professionals. Future generations of lawyers will be reminded of the proud legacy of this great family every time they meet in this room.
Another meaning for the word ‘respect’ is “great admiration,” which is something we all share for Simon Uhl.