James H. "Bert" McConomy, a witty and erudite Pittsburgh attorney who served as a mentor to many young lawyers in a long and distinguished legal career, died Tuesday.
He was 76 and lived in Thornburg.
Mr. McConomy was a longtime managing partner at Reed Smith, where he spent 30 years, before moving to Titus & McConomy and then, in 2000, to Meyer Unkovic & Scott, where he focused on mediation.
He retired in 2010 and was working as a sole practitioner out of his home while dealing with myriad health problems, most recently kidney failure.
Clever and scholarly, he handled mostly complex business litigation and was an expert on corporate governance.
He was well-respected in the legal community as much for his sharp legal mind as his ability to converse on almost any topic, from Greek mythology to hockey.
"He was brilliant, he was funny. He was a great mentor and a very humane colleague and teacher," said Thomas Hardiman, a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge who learned from Mr. McConomy while both practiced at the Titus firm in the 1990s.
One of Mr. McConomy's biggest cases occurred during his time there when he represented the DeBartolo Realty Corp. in a federal suit against the Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm, accused of failing to detect the billion-dollar fraud of the PharMor drugstore chain.
Judge Hardiman said he was impressed by his senior colleague's closing argument, which boiled down months of complicated legal wrangling to essentials that the jury could understand.
That ability was one of his many talents as a litigator. Another was his courtesy and respect for the law and his opponents, friends said.
"Bert was unique in his ability to serve as a fierce advocate for his client, while at the same time honoring the profession of law and building relationships with his adversary and the court," said David Oberdick of Meyer Unkovic & Scott.
Beyond the courtroom, Mr. McConomy was known for his knowledge on many topics, a product of his lifelong love of books. He had converted a room in his house to a library, but his wife said books could be found throughout the home.
He could quote stanzas of poetry for any occasion and enlivened social gatherings with stories.
"He was incredibly well-read and he did travel," attorney Paul Titus said. "He loved poetry and literature. He also studied the ethnic heritage of this area. He had a wide range of interests."
Local history was another of his passions. As a member of Wilmerding Renewed, he was instrumental in saving the Westinghouse "Castle," the huge edifice in Wilmerding that had served as the headquarters for Westinghouse Air Brake.
His family once lived about a block from the building, and he and his brother, Tom, retired president of Calgon Carbon Corp., used to roller skate in the parking lot as kids.
"He didn't want to see something that was part of his childhood, and a main part of the town, disappear," said his stepdaughter, Gayle Cavanaugh, 42, of Sheraden.
Mr. McConomy was a Harvard graduate and a member of the Downtown Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club, where he served as president in the 1970s and where his name is carved into the bar, but he had none of the stuffiness often associated with Ivy Leaguers.
Born in 1937, he grew up in unpretentious circumstances in Wilmerding, the son of a Rockwell Manufacturing electrician who was transferred to Ohio when Mr. McConomy was in the eighth grade.
His parents sent him to Saint Vincent Preparatory School in Latrobe, after which he went to Harvard. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1959 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1962.
He married his first wife, Jeanne, in 1959 and the couple adopted two children.
He went to work at Reed Smith Shaw & McClay in 1962, then served briefly in the Army during the Vietnam War, stationed in the South. After six months of active duty, he became a reservist and returned to Reed Smith.
He became partner there in 1971 and head of the litigation group in 1979 while also serving on the firm's executive committee.
He and Jeanne divorced in the 1980s and he married his second wife, Roberta, a divorcee with four children, in 1989.
After three decades at Reed Smith, Mr. McConomy left in 1992 to join Cindrich & Titus -- later Titus & McConomy -- from 1993 to 1999. He briefly joined Schnader Harrison and then moved to Meyer Unkovic in 2000, where he finished out his career.
Mr. McConomy also loved fishing and the outdoors, a pastime fostered from his days as a Boy Scout.
In his younger years he traveled often in a recreational vehicle to the Yukon with his family. He also enjoyed regular trout fishing trips to Kane, Pa., with a group of friends.
Besides his brother, his wife, his ex-wife and his stepdaughter, Mr. McConomy is survived by five other children: Meg McConomy and Michael McConomy, both of Bar Harbor, Maine; Sean Cavanaugh of Lancaster, Pa.; Ann Sipos of Bel Aire, Md.; and Neal Cavanaugh of Marietta, Pa. Also surviving are nine grandchildren.
Burial will be at 1:30 p.m. today. Guests are asked to meet at St. Philip Roman Catholic Church in Crafton. Arrangements were being handled by Schepner-McDermott Funeral Home in Crafton.
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