Judge Edwin J. Wolf continued going to his downtown Baltimore office six-days-a-week well into his nineties. Though people had tried to dissuade him, he couldn’t be stopped. It was a simple bus ride from his Roland Park residence to his President Street workplace, and he had become friendly with the various regulars on the bus line. More importantly, “the boys” at Eccleston & Wolf, P.C., needed him. Who else but this wily, East Baltimore World War II hero, would introduce the new law clerks to the firm and the Baltimore legal community at-large, of which Wolf had been apart of since 1928? The Judge – or Colonel, depending on your association – was a “fount of information” and had reveled in the role of buffer for greenhorn-attorneys since the 1970s. He knew his job wasn’t done.
Ten years ago, then-90-year-old Judge Wolf was scheduled to retire, but no one truly believed it. His wife Jane planned a retirement party for her husband at the illustrious Center Club in downtown Baltimore and invited employees from the firm, as well as many other associates from his 70-years of service in both the legal and military arenas. She had told people of their plans to spend the winters in Florida aboard their boat and how they would enjoy their golden years in their Baltimore condo. As the merry crowd toasted the man-of-honor, the Bronze Star-recipient walked to the podium and made clear his future intentions.
“I’ll retire when they pat my face with a shovel,” Wolf bellowed before abruptly exiting his retirement party. The crowd paused for a moment, and then erupted in laughter.
“That’s the Colonel” – a man who knew no other way but his own.
Born in 1907, Wolf came from the “Greatest Generation”, a bloc of determined, hard-working Americans that experienced countless hardships. Their work-ethic built this country into what it is today, and Wolf was a major contributor in that effort. Whether it was waking up at 6:30 a.m. to ride the trolley from his “country” home in Park Heights to the corner of Eutaw and Pratt Streets before the mile-walk westward to the Arlington Avenue entrance of the B&O Mt. Clare Station; or making lengthy drives to Maryland’s eastern shore and back to Baltimore as a rum-runner during Prohibition; or patrolling the Atlantic coastline while in the Coast Guard, as German submarines sank enough ships to blanket Virginia’s beach with oil; or leading his troops, amidst spraying bullets, to safe spots on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944; or returning from Europe in 1945 and having to rebuild his law firm from scratch – Wolf always had a firm grasp on his role and knew the right way to do the job. When politicians approached him 18 months into his judicial position and demanded money if he wanted to remain a judge, Wolf responded, “You fellas go to hell.” He wasn’t reelected, but he didn’t give in.
His niece Susan Wolf Dudley remembers when her Uncle Edwin was approached by Army Engineers, following Hurricane Katrina, about ways to improve New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain. Wolf was the optimal resource due to his work as an Army Engineer and his role in expanding the Loch Raven Reservoir while an Assistant Title Examiner for the City in the late 1920s. After the young engineers left, the Colonel griped that the job wouldn’t be done right because they weren’t willing to spend the money. Besides, Dudley continues, “He told them decades ago how to [improve] it.”
Following his military service and judicial appointment, Wolf went back full-time to the law firm. Despite his time off, his litigation-prowess never wavered and Wolf was even regarded as one of the top equity attorneys in the state. On a Saturday morning in September 1980, the Judge was alone, doing work in their then-headquarters at 110 E. Lexington Street, when he heard an unexpected guest trying to enter the office. Wolf had taken on some high-profile cases in the past and did not know who, if anyone, would try coming after him – but he protected himself, nonetheless. He pulled out his trusty .38 caliber revolver and waited. Edward Hutchins – then an overeager law clerk trying to get ahead by working on a Saturday – can still hear the hammer clicking as he tried navigating into the office. Fortunately, no shots were fired.
“He was an unforgettable character,” says Hutchins, now a partner at Eccleston & Wolf. “No one that worked with him at length could ever forget him.”
As Wolf approached the century mark, his health no longer allowed him to take the bus to work, so the firm sent a clerk to pick him up and bring him to the office. After all, they needed him – he worked with the clerks, and every senior member of the firm began their legal career as a clerk working with Judge Wolf.
“He was a great mentor to all the attorneys in the firm,” recalls Wolf’s longtime partner and best friend, Archibald Eccleston. “He always had time for new lawyers. We were together from 1968 to the day he died.”
Aged 100 years and 282 days, Edwin J. Wolf died in his sleep on February 7, 2008.
On a warm May afternoon, 265 days prior, Wolf had sat in his Roland Park Place condo, telling a stranger about his ascent from “a little engineer to a Colonel.” But he was much more. Admired by his peers for his intelligence, generosity, wit and unparalleled work ethic, Wolf was in a class all his own.
At his funeral service, the eulogy he wrote for himself was read aloud. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.