By Eleanor Linafelt
Herbert Kolsby, a renowned attorney and dedicated fundraiser for Israel, died on May 1. He was 94.
Kolsby was a founding partner of the Philadelphia law firm Kolsby, Gordon, Robin & Shore.
“He was always an advocate for the little guy,” said his law partner Mitchell Shore. “He was a very creative attorney who developed successful cases against drug manufacturers, specifically the drug diethylstilbestrol.”
Kolsby tried the first case and had the first successful verdict against the manufacturers of diethylstilbestrol, a drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s and ’60s that caused cancer in their children. He represented women throughout the country who were affected.
“He was always willing to take on the true challenges against great odds,” Shore said.
A nationally respected lawyer, Kolsby was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and listed in the Best Lawyers in America.
In 1993, Kolsby was awarded the Michael A. Musmanno Award, established by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, which annually recognizes “the person who best exemplifies the same high integrity, scholarship, imagination, courage and concern for human rights” as the late Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice it is named after.
Born and raised in Wynnefield, Kolsby met his wife, Hermine Wilson Kolsby, when they were in fourth grade. They both attended Overbrook High School and were married for 72 years until her death in January. A dedicated father to his three children, he developed an even closer relationship with them after his wife’s death.
“He helped us through the death of our mother and parented us through the end,” his daughter Dana Edenbaum said.
Kolsby attended Temple University and graduated from its law school in 1951. Toward the end of his career, Kolsby helped to create Temple’s nationally-ranked master’s program in trial advocacy.
“After he was finishing practice full time, when most people would just go to Florida and retire, he jumped into the law program 120%,” Shore said. “He was a great teacher, mentor and leader.”
In addition to being a mentor to young lawyers, Kolsby was an active leader in the local Jewish community. He was president of Temple Adath Israel in Merion from 1992 to 1993, where Shore was also a member.
“He was a great mentor for me in the Jewish community because he encouraged me to take leadership roles at the Jewish Federation and the synagogue,” Shore said.
Kolsby served as general chairman of the Federation Allied Jewish Appeal, the fundraising arm of the Federation of Jewish Agencies. “He was a dramatic and intense advocate of Israel,” Edenbaum said. “He was a great, great fundraiser.”
Every year on Yom Kippur, Kolsby gave a speech in support of Israel Bonds at Adath Israel.
“He would give an incredible review of the last year of what happened in Israel socially, economically, politically and militarily,” Shore said. “It was something everyone looked forward to every year. He was an incredible orator.”
Edenbaum said that her father would prepare his speeches, which were packed with information and statistics, for an entire year, but deliver them without any notes.
“He would begin preparing for these speeches the day after Yom Kippur for the following one,” she said. “It was amazing. People still tell me, ‘I will never forget those speeches that your dad gave in the synagogue.’”
Kolsby also was active in changing the rules for the Law of Return to Israel to include interfaith families.
“He very much believed everyone should be included in Israel and everyone should have an opportunity to go back,” Edenbaum said. “He believed antisemitism was something that was always going to exist, and we always needed to have Israel.”
Even at the end of his life, Kolsby still voraciously read The New York Times and kept up to date on current politics and culture.
“It was amazing how he took in and articulated things,” Edenbaum said. “He always stayed focused and interested and vibrant and that has a lot to do with his longevity.”
Kolsby is survived by his brother, Charles Kolsby (Beryl); his children, Dana Edenbaum (Saul), Robert Kolsby (Kathy) and Paul Kolsby (Sam); five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Eleanor Linafelt is a freelance writer.