Losing a local legal legend
“He was a master at the practice of law.”
— Judge W. Duncan Whitney
“If there is one thing almost anyone who worked with Dick Firestone will tell you, it’s that he always made you feel good.”
— David Brehm
It is a cruel trick of chronology that when we lose those who have been blessed with great longevity, they have no remaining contemporaries to laud their good deeds. Such is the case after the passing on Monday of Richard Firestone at the age of 98.
Born Aug. 7, 1913, Firestone first came to Delaware to attend Ohio Wesleyan University. There he met his future wife, Ruth, a prolific artist. They were married in 1936 and Dick headed off to law school at the University of Cincinnati. He was admitted to the Ohio bar on Aug. 11, 1939, just weeks prior to the start of World War II.
During the war, he first served as an MP then moved into counterintelligence and finally served as a Judge Advocate General. Following the war he served with the Veterans Administration in Washington and then moved to Delaware where he reunited with his college fraternity brother O.W. Whitney Jr. and Judge E.T. Humes.
It was during the period between the Second World War and the Korean War that Firestone made his most lasting and visible mark on Delaware County. A group of local farmers, businessmen and legal leaders had formed together to explore the formation of a local bank. They had been spurred to action by Clifford Gooding who was then general manager of the Delaware Farmer’s Exchange. Gooding was upset with the practices and policies of the First National Bank, the only bank in town at that time.
Firestone had been back in Delaware for only a year but joined the group of men who would found The Delaware County Bank and Trust Company. Before they could even file their application for a bank charter the local building and loan association closed its doors and headed to Columbus. Taking a huge risk, the group pulled together their resources and signed a five year lease on the vacated space at the corner of Sandusky and Winter streets for the then incredible sum of $24,000.
In a history of The Bank, Firestone states, “We had a golden opportunity to latch on to the best location in Delaware for a bank. We figured we could open a small loan business if the application for a new bank was turned down.” First National opposed that application and it was Firestone who went before the Ohio Bank Advisory Board and argued that a locally owned bank was just what Delaware needed. The Board agreed. In just two months they raised the $250,000 to open the bank, and within five months, The Bank had two million dollars in deposits. Firestone would serve as Chairman of the Board from 1950 until 1982 with the exception of the period in 1951 in which he was recalled to active duty at the Pentagon during the Korean War.
After O.W. Whitney was elected Common Pleas Judge, Firestone practiced for years in partnership with Bob Coldren, O.W.’s son Tom Whitney and O.W.’s nephew and current Common Pleas Judge W. Duncan Whitney. In a 2009 Gazette article celebrating Firestone’s 70 years of practice, Judge Whitney said, “He’s been like a father to me. I’ve never seen another lawyer who could use time as efficiently as Dick.”
Earlier this week, I emailed the members of the Delaware County Bar Association asking for their memories of Dick Firestone. Bob Coldren contacted me immediately, noting that Mr. Firestone was a mentor to him and to the others in the firm. “He and Ruth were always very generous to us,” he said. “I will personally miss him a great deal.” Tom Whitney, now executive vice-president and general counsel of The Bank, noted that Mr. Firestone had been a figure in his life since he was four years old. County law librarian Judy Maxwell, who practiced in the firm in the late 1980s recalled that Mr. Firestone was always open with information and assistance and both she and Juvenile Judge Kenneth J. Spicer recalled his witticisms.
I knew Mr. Firestone from my time at the prosecutor’s office which was then housed in the same building as his firm. At that time, he was in his mid-80s and came into work often. Though I did not practice in his firm, he made it a point to know my name and to dispense excellent advice. Those of us who practice law in this community will miss him for his wit and wisdom. The city will miss him for the contributions that he made to the benefit of us all.
David Hejmanowski is a magistrate and court administrator at the Delaware County Juvenile Court and a former assistant prosecuting attorney.