Robert C. Prem, 70, estate lawyer, Sherlock Holmes fan

July 07, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert Curtis Prem, an estate lawyer and avid Sherlock Holmes fan who had been active in local Republican politics, died Saturday of liver disease at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 70.

At the time of his death, the longtime Original Northwood resident was of counsel to the law firm of Prem, Saltzman and Jablon Inc.

Mr. Prem, who was considered an expert in estate planning, probate and trust administration, had practiced law with the Baltimore firm of Niles, Barton and Wilmer for 40 years before founding his own firm in 1985. The firm of Prem and Dumler was dissolved in 1996.

"He was an extremely smart lawyer," said James A. Cole, formerly of Niles, Barton and Wilmer, and now associated with Venable, Baetjer and Howard.

"While working with clients, he was extremely patient. He was a dedicated lawyer who was generous to a fault. He took care of his clients from the standpoint of doing the work with reduced fees or no fees at all," Mr. Cole said.

He also praised Mr. Prem's "self-deprecating" humor and "ability to laugh at himself."

Mr. Prem, a longtime Republican, served on the Republican State Central Committee and was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for the state Senate seat from the 3rd District in 1966.

"When his last son was born in 1968, he named him Gary O. Prem for the initials GOP," a son, Wayne T. Prem of Perry Hall, said with a laugh yesterday.

Samuel A. Culotta, a Baltimore lawyer and frequent GOP mayoral candidate whose campaigns were managed by Mr. Prem, said: "A moderate-conservative Republican, he came out of the old German Republican politics of the Homestead community of Northeast Baltimore. His father was active in 9th Ward Republican politics, and Bob used to say that he had the `fierce pride of the Homesteaders.' "

He described him as a "fine gentleman, a man of character who was soft-spoken but brilliant. He was a good, honest man of total integrity and incapable of a dishonest thought."

Born and raised in Homestead, Mr. Prem was a 1947 graduate of Baltimore City College. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1950 from the Johns Hopkins University and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1953.

After clerking for Simon E. Sobeloff and Frederick W. Brune, chief judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mr. Prem entered private practice.

He held numerous civic offices, including president of the Baltimore City Jail Board, and was a member of the Legal Aid Bureau for Baltimore City and the Lawyers Counseling Committee of the Maryland State Bar Association.

An enthusiastic chess player, he was a member of a chess club that meets monthly at the Johns Hopkins Club. He also was a 30-year member of the Six Napoleons, a group of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts devoted to the activities and times of the fictional detective.

"He was a dedicated and ardent Sherlockian," said Philip Sherman, a Baltimore attorney and member of the Six Napoleons.

"He had a profound knowledge of Victorian England and the setting for the stories," said Mr. Sherman, who also confessed that whenever he met Mr. Prem on the street, he always asked him a Holmes-related question.

He was an active member and former Sunday school director for Woodbrook Baptist Church, 25 Stevenson Lane, Towson, where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife, the former Bernice Rutter, whom he married in 1961; three other sons, Keith R. Prem and Gary O. Prem, both of Anneslie, and Craig A. Prem of White Marsh; two sisters, Doris Silverwood of Timonium and L. Virginia Collins of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and three grandchildren.

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