Jacob Blum, Horatio Alger tales inspired lawyer

July 08, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Jacob Blum, a son of Russian immigrants who was inspired to become a lawyer by heroic tales of poor boys who became successes, died Tuesday of an embolism at his Pikesville home. He was 86.

His parents moved to Baltimore from Russia in 1906. The family had a confectionery store at Calhoun and Mosher streets that his mother operated while his father worked as a cap maker.

Mr. Blum, who was the first member of his family to be born in this country, grew up on Eden Street on the east side. He described in a recent interview for the Jewish Historical Society his family's early struggle in Baltimore.

"I never saw an indoor toilet or bath until I was five," he said. "The neighborhood we lived in was a ghetto where immigrants congregated by the thousands."

He attended city schools and recalled in the interview how he developed his lifelong interest in the law after reading stories by Horatio Alger and others:

"On my way to and from school, to which I walked, I passed a store that sold stories by these authors in editions on racks for five cents each. I became a good customer.

"It was these stories with heroic tales of poor boys, who because of their bravery and honesty became rich and powerful, it was because of their ever-successful defense of the poor as lawyers, that stimulated my desire for the profession."

He graduated from City College in 1925 and entered the University of Maryland School of Law directly from high school, a member of the last class allowed to attend law school without a college degree.

He graduated in 1929 and took a job in a law office for $5 a week. He supplemented his income by selling shoes at night, on weekends and holidays. He later went to work for the Legal Aid Bureau and became a member of the bar in 1932.

He was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1934 to 1939 and sponsored legislation that outlawed the sale and use of marijuana in Maryland, which at that time was permitted by federal drug laws.

In 1936, he was appointed the first Regional Attorney of the National Labor Relations Board for the Fifth Region, headquartered in Baltimore. In that post, he participated in the Supreme Court case in which the court upheld the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act, an early piece of New Deal legislation.

In 1943, he founded the law firm of Blum, Yumkas, Mailman, Gutman & Denick, P.A., in offices in what is now the Maryland National Bank Building on Light Street.

In the Jewish Historical Society interview, he said, "I set up my practice specializing in labor relations on behalf of employers. I was the first in Maryland and one of the first in the country to do this on an exclusive labor practice only, representing management.

"There were other lawyers in Baltimore with considerable experience representing employers, but this was done along with general practice," he said.

"He was remarkable in a number of ways," recalled his partner and friend Edward Gutman.

"He was a gentleman and very dignified. I don't think he ever drank or smoked and didn't swear. He was a person of the highest ethical standards who when he accepted an assignment to handle a case, he became devoted to the client.

"He was the most decisive man I've ever known -- he could take a set of circumstances and tell the client exactly what to do. And once he made a decision, he would stick with it because it was the right decision in the end," Mr. Gutman said.

Mr. Blum was described by his daughter, Gail Blum Yumkas, as "always having a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face and the ability to regale listeners with fascinating stories for hours."

He was a voracious reader and was able to digest books in one sitting and had an incredible memory for detail, she said.

"He could remember the page and column a legal issue appeared on in legal books," Mrs. Yumkas said.

"That's what made him, his incredible memory," Mr. Gutman said. "He could recall phone calls in precise detail from weeks back. He was amazing."

Mr. Blum was a member of Beth Tfiloh Congregation for many years until joining Beth El Congregation in 1958.

He enjoyed surf fishing, golf, gin rummy and was a member of the Bonnie View Country Club.

Other survivors include his wife of 60 years, the former Jeanette Goren; a son, Stanford W. Blum of Encino, Calif.; a sister, Bertha Shefferman of Washington; five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Memorial donations may be made to Beth El Congregation, 8101 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore 21208.

Services were held yesterday.

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