William H. Engelman, 79, lawyer, civil rights advocate


William H. Engelman, a retired Baltimore attorney and a civil rights advocate whose career spanned nearly a half-century, died of heart failure Thursday at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital. The Mount Washington resident was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park, Mr. Engelman was a 1944 graduate of Forest Park High School. He had planned to study journalism and had attended Syracuse University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1948.

He abandoned journalism and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1951 and then served for 19 months with the Army in Korea during the war.

On his return, Mr. Engelman began practicing law with his uncle, Sidney A. Needle, and then joined and later became a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Kaplan, Heyman, Greenberg, Engelman and Belgrad. In 1998, his firm merged with Tydings & Rosenberg LLP, from which he retired in 2004.

Mr. Engelman maintained a general law practice and represented a number of public sector labor unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for 25 years.

During his long career, he also represented the Baltimore Teachers Union, the Baltimore firefighters union and the Maryland News Distributing Co.

"I've known Bill since we were 6 years old, and we've practiced law together for over 50 years," said Charles B. Heyman, a law partner. "He had great integrity and respect for the law and was a good advocate in the courtroom. He was forceful and fought hard for his clients and was respected by both judges and lawyers."

"Not only was Bill a good lawyer, he was the kind of person who reaches out and makes friends, keep friends and enriches them," said Herbert J. Belgrad, a law partner and friend.

"He was always a strong advocate for causes such as civil rights and protecting the rights of working men and women. He was a modest, private man who never wanted any credit. He didn't do it for recognition but because of his deep personal commitment to issues and people."

Richard D. Rosenthal, a lawyer with Tydings & Rosenberg LLP, called Mr. Engelman "a staunch civil libertarian" who "defended with every fiber of his body the U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech. He could be loud and vociferous but also gentle, but his voice was always one to be reckoned with."

Mr. Engelman participated in civil rights demonstrations at Gwynn Oak Park and marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma, Ala.

"For him, the law was a way of helping people stand up," said his daughter, Elizabeth Engelman of Minneapolis.

Even though Mr. Engelman had experienced failing health in recent years, he enjoyed regular visits to his firm's office at 100 E. Pratt St., colleagues said.

"He had a very astute mind and loved to talk about the law," said Howard J. Needle, a cousin and a former member of the House of Delegates who is a Baltimore attorney. "He was a man of strong convictions and always did what was right.

"He loved talking and asking about my cases, and the unique thing about him was his deep interest in you," Mr. Needle added. " ... He'd look into your eyes and ask questions, and it made no difference whether the person was 8 or 88."

Mr. Engelman's involvement with civic and legal organizations was extensive. He had served in the early 1970s as a member of the Community Relations Commission of Baltimore City.

He was a member of the character committee of the Maryland Court of Appeals for nearly a decade and served three terms on the Attorney Grievance Commission and three years as a member of its review board.

He was a member of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Equal Justice USA. He was a former president of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a member of the National Governing Council of the American Jewish Congress.

Mr. Engelman was an avid fan of the plays of William Shakespeare and served as a trustee and board member of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival.

Another great interest he had was following the Orioles. "He had been a fan since the time he learned to talk, and he was buried with two Orioles' hats," Mr. Needle said.

Mr. Engelman was a member and vice president of Beth Am Congregation.

Services were Sunday.

Also surviving are several other cousins. His marriage to the former Frances Hoffenberg ended in divorce.


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