At Makadon memorial, tears, smiles, admiration

Arthur Makadon
Arthur Makadon
Posted: August 14, 2013

On a late night in City Hall in the 1970s, District Attorney Arlen Specter's crack appellate team was hard at work.

There was the team leader, Ed Rendell, who would go on to be mayor and then governor, and colleague Arthur Makadon, a rising legal star who would eventually take over as chairman of the Ballard Spahr firm. To let off steam, they had fashioned a makeshift basketball hoop out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket and taped it to the Supreme Court motions calendar for a quick pickup game.

For a ball, they used a wad of rolled-up newspapers.

Game on.

Near the climax of the evening's festivities, Makadon drove for the basket and let out a triumphant whoop when his hook shot dropped through the hoop. But this came just as Specter entered the office with a small group of dignitaries and campaign donors.

"This is the appeals and motions team," Rendell recalled the future U.S. senator telling his guests before he realized that his team, rather than poring over texts and drafting pleadings, had gone schoolyard in the ultraserious confines of the city's top law-enforcement office.

Although Makadon had a reputation as a fierce competitor, he was really "a fun-loving softy," said Rendell, who related the story at a memorial service Monday for Makadon at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater - an event marked by tears, fond remembrances, and regret.

Around 300 people attended the service for Makadon, who died of lung cancer July 24 at 70. Friends and family recalled him as a hard-driving lawyer, loyal friend, and astute judge of people.

In addition to Rendell, Mayor Nutter attended, along with other leaders of local government and business.

"I and several others are faced with the problem of who shall we call when faced with a complex problem," said Rendell. "He had no agenda, and he told the truth."

Makadon loved the south of France and the service began with a prelude, the strains of Edith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose" as photos of Makadon with family, colleagues, and political figures flashed on a screen on the stage.

The memorial ended with a recording of Bob Seger's "Still the Same." In between, eight of Makadon's closest family and friends shared anecdotes depicting his spontaneity and wild imagination, and his fierce devotion to causes that he believed in.

"We can still see that face of sublime bemusement, with that intellect ticking away underneath like a perfect sports watch, and that hair that was, well, Arthur's hair," wrote the author H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger in a eulogy read by Makadon's longtime companion, Naomi Wyatt. "If he didn't like you, you might as well enter witness protection. Even then, he would find you. But if he liked you, God, were you lucky."

It was in the District Attorney's Office that Makadon began to form the relationships that helped him build Ballard Spahr from a regional firm to one with national reach and influence.

He was politically influential in the city and beyond - Rendell considered him a trusted adviser - and once turned down the offer of a seat as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia because he wanted to stay with Ballard.

Ballard colleague Geoffrey Kahn recalled Makadon as an iconoclast with a bent toward spontaneity and a puckish sense of humor that at times bordered on the inscrutable.

He would occasionally interview job candidates wearing his running clothes, and had furnished his office with a pink couch and kitchen table, Kahn said.

Kahn recalled one incident in which he had taken his high school basketball coach out to dinner only to discover that the restaurant where they had eaten did not take credit cards. The coach paid for dinner. Mortified, Kahn drove to Makadon's house on Delancey Street to see whether he might be able to lend him the cash to repay his coach.

According to Kahn, Makadon popped his head out of a third-floor window after Kahn rang the doorbell and asked what he needed. After disappearing for a few minutes, Makadon reappeared at the window and started tossing $20 bills into the air.

"Those bills fluttered in every direction, and I had to scamper all over Delancey Street chasing them down," Kahn said.

Mark Stewart, who took over as Ballard chairman after Makadon stepped down in 2011 to resume the full-time practice of law, said Makadon's judgment about people was unerring.

"I can't tell you how many times we were amazed at Arthur's ability to read people," he said, adding that his former colleague was a matrix of contradictions.

He avoided philanthropic giving, but was generous to fellow lawyers at Ballard, staff, friends, family, and others, Stewart said. He was cynical about politics, but willing to offer politicians his advice, which often was sought.

"He was a tremendous mentor to me, but more than anything else, he was my best friend," said Makadon's son-in-law Jake Sauerteig.

David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp., former chairman of Ballard Spahr, and a longtime friend, praised Makadon's loyalty and his legal skills.

"If you ever had a matter that involved the [fate] of your company or your personal reputation, there was no better lawyer to go to," Cohen said.

Yet the overarching theme, the thing that seemed to stick in the mind for so many, was Makadon's magnetic personality.

"So who was Arthur Makadon?" Kahn asked. "To be sure, he was a superb lawyer and brilliant strategist who could handle the most complex cases and solve the knottiest problems.

"But that is not what drew us to him. What drew us to him was the irresistible force of his personality. He compelled our attention because he seemed so different and so complicated."


For more photos from the memorial service for Arthur Makadon, go to

Contact Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or

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