Obituary: Frederick N. Egler / 'Old-school' Pittsburgh lawyer, leader for decades

May 27, 1922 - Feb. 28, 2014

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Frederick N. Egler spent more than half a century practicing law in Pittsburgh, trying civil cases with an intelligence and sense of civility that made him widely respected among his peers.

Also known for his support of Catholic education and other causes closes to his deep religious faith, Mr. Egler was at one time elected the president of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County, a group he helped create to bridge divisions between the state and federal courts and between plaintiffs lawyers and defense attorneys.

Mr. Egler died Friday in his Squirrel Hill home at age 91. He had been in good health until 2012, when a series of ailments arose after his leg was broken.

The longtime lawyer retired in 2001 when dissolving the Egler Garrett & Egler firm, in which his son Frederick N. Egler Jr. of Oakland also was a partner. Of the 11 children he raised with Ruth, his wife of 60 years, six of Mr. Egler's children followed in his footsteps as lawyers.

He, meanwhile, had been the first one in his own family to even attend college, as the son of a city police officer in Brookline. Mr. Egler was a graduate of South Hills High School and Duquesne University, a former Eagle Scout who served in the Army as a lieutenant in an artillery brigade during World War II.

He financed his way through the University of Pittsburgh School of Law by working at odd jobs and began practicing law in 1948. He specialized as a defense attorney representing numerous businesses -- national as well as local ones -- against lawsuits brought by other companies or individuals. He also taught torts and other law in night classes for many years at Duquesne University, becoming a mentor to a wide number of local lawyers.

"He was the consummate professional, an old-school lawyer to whom words were very important," said Donald E. Ziegler of Upper St. Clair, a former federal judge who, as a younger trial lawyer, learned from Mr. Egler. "He was a man of few words, but what he said was very important."

Always wearing a bow tie, and also noticeable by a full head of white hair, Mr. Egler impressed others by disdaining notes in courtrooms, thus maintaining eye contact with judges and juries while ever knowledgeable and in control as a public speaker. He was one of the most prolific readers anyone knew, and he had mastered vast knowledge of authors and of quotations from them. Citations from the works of Shakespeare were among his favorites.

His former partner, Robert S. Garrett of Ross, said Mr. Egler was one of the most scholarly of lawyers while also popular with adversaries on the other side of courtrooms because of the sense of cooperation he promoted.

"He was a man of great depth, not just interested in cases but in the social context of law and its place in society," Mr. Garrett said. "We'd have these long philosophical conversations in the office when things weren't too hectic."

Mr. Egler was a leader in both the legal field and volunteer activities. In addition to helping create the Academy of Trial Lawyers, he and his wife were instrumental in advocacy and funding to help create Oakland Catholic High School after other girls schools of the local diocese ran into financial difficulties.

A parishioner of the former St. Philomena parish in Squirrel Hill and afterward of St. Paul in Oakland, Mr. Egler was a local recipient of the St. Thomas More Award, given to a Catholic member of the bar recognized for exemplary work consistent with their faith.

His large family was Mr. Egler's other priority. He and his wife bought a 250-acre working farm near Stoystown in Somerset County in 1964 and loved taking their kids and grandchildren there ever since.

Mr. Egler planted many hundreds of trees there, as well as a vast array of shrubs, bushes and flowers, while raising horses and other animals on the property. He loved identifying birds while watching them through the large porch windows of the farmhouse, parts of which date to before the Civil War.

In addition to his wife and Frederick N. Egler Jr., he is survived by sons John C. Egler of Squirrel Hill, William D. Egler of Bedford, N.Y., Peter J. Egler of Philadelphia and Thomas E. Egler of San Diego; six daughters, Mary Jo Egler of Oakland, Anne L. Egler of suburban Philadelphia, Ruth Egler Hiatt of Glen Ridge, N.J., Margaret M. Egler of La Jolla, Calif., Frances L. Egler of New York City and Rachel A. Egler of Cleveland; and 11 grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. today and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave., Shadyside.

A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Memorial contributions may be made to Duquesne University, 600 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15282.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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