'A very special, weird kind of strange:' Neil Carver, 79, Center City attorney

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Neil Carver, 79, a retired Center City attorney, died Sunday surrounded by his family.

Ellen Carver loved reading her three children bedtime stories when they were growing up but her husband, Neil, loved creating stories for their kids.

As the years went by and the stories became more detailed, the family realized that Neil Carver’s wild tales were not just creations of his own mind — they were re-creations of his childhood growing up in Philadelphia.

“He loved to tell stories about growing up in Southwest Philly,” said Mr. Carver's son, Jeremy. “He and his friends were street-smart Jewish kids who grew up poor and had to fight their way out of their neighborhood every single day.”

Mr. Carver, 79, a former Center City attorney, died  Sunday from complications related to a stroke. He is survived by his wife, Ellen Carver of Lower Merion; his son, Jeremy Carver of California; and daughters Lindsey Carver Schortz of Maine and Dana Levitties of Philadelphia. He is also survived by seven grandchildren.

Mr. Carver instilled his love of storytelling in Jeremy, a television executive producer whose work includes Supernatural, Frequency, and Being Human. Mr. Carver took great pride in his son’s success and often sent him story ideas.

“You could pretty much boil all his ideas into one plot line. It didn’t matter what kind of movie it was, it always had the same three acts,” the son said. “Act one: Somebody did something bad to a bunch of Jewish people. Act two: Nobody cares about act two. And act three was always one word: Revenge!”

Mr. Carver, who was 6-foot-4 and bore a striking resemblance to Walter Matthau, grew up on the 5900 block of Windsor Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, where he was part of a tight-knit group of boys who hung out at Phil's Luncheonette. He graduated from Bartram High School and went to Temple University on a basketball scholarship.

On his first date with his future wife in Longport, N.J., the couple was hauled into a police station after Mr. Carver parked his vehicle in a no-parking zone. Ellen was far from scared off by the experience.

“I knew immediately he was the man I was going to marry. He was just a very special, weird kind of strange,” she said. “He had a dry sense of humor and he wasn’t full of himself. He zigged when everybody else zagged.”

While Mr. Carver was on leave from the Army Reserve, the two married on Dec. 25, 1962.

Mr. Carver obtained his law degree from Villanova University and opened up his first practice in what is now Northern Liberties before moving his office to Center City. He worked mainly in criminal law “because that was the business that came in the door,” his wife said.

Among the more prominent cases Mr. Carver defended was that of a Delaware County X-ray technician who hired a West Philly street vendor to kill his wife in 1990, but the vendor got cold feet and went to the police instead of going through with the hit.

Mr. Carver retired from practicing law around 2009, his wife said.

Along with his law business, Mr. Carver was also the owner of the now-shuttered Parker-Spruce Hotel for nearly 30 years.

Above all, he was a people person and there were no people he loved more in this world than his children, whom he often took hiking and camping.

“He was an exceptional father. That was his life’s work,” Ellen Carver said. “That's what I would say he excelled at the most.”

Mr.  Carver instilled a love of and a curiosity for all people in his children, said his wife and son.

“He truly was a man who could have a conversation with anybody,” Jeremy Carver said. “That is behavior to model.”

A memorial service for Mr. Carver will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. Interment will be private.