Harold Cramer, 90, Philly lawyer and active civic volunteer

Harold Cramer, 90, of Philadelphia, a Center City lawyer who used his skills as leader and litigator on behalf of his clients, the health-care community, and many charitable causes, died Friday, Sept. 1, of renal failure at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Camera icon Courtesy of the family
Harold Cramer

Mr. Cramer was a skilled practitioner, but he took his profession a step further, said his daughter, Patricia G. Cramer.

“My dad was really smart and good at what he did, but he didn’t just sit behind a desk. He was active in the bar association, the Jewish community, at Graduate Hospital before it became Graduate Health System.” He acted out of altruism, she said.

David Smith, chairman of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, said Mr. Cramer, with whom he worked for years, was trying to make the world a better place.

“Harold brought the same dedication and intensity to his public and charitable service as he did to his legal and business pursuits, and elevated all of us in the process,” Smith said.

Ambitious and hardworking, Mr. Cramer graduated from Central High School, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

In 1951, he was drafted into the Army. Deployed to Korea as a commissioned officer, he attended the Judge Advocate General’s School before becoming chief prosecutor for the Eighth Army in Korea. He saw combat and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Once back in the United States, Mr. Cramer clerked for President Judge O. Lewis of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

In 1955, he joined the law firm of Shapiro Rosenfeld Stalberg & Cook, where he rose to partner. In 1967, he joined Mesirov, Gelman, Jaffe & Levin, which eventually became Mesirov, Gelman, Jaffe, Cramer & Jamieson, LLP, where he was elected managing partner.

His specialty was corporate and commercial law. But starting in the late 1960s, he became active as a volunteer chairman of the board for Graduate Hospital as well. In 1989, the post blossomed into a paid position as chief executive officer of what became Graduate Health System Inc.

Under his tenure, the health-care network acquired a string of hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and then was itself acquired by the nonprofit Allegheny Health, Education, and Research Foundation in 1996. It later became part of Penn Medicine.

In the fall of 1996, Mr. Cramer returned to Mesirov, and in 2000, when Mesirov merged with Schnader, he became “of counsel,” and retired as a Schnader partner.

From 1994 until 2017, he was a director of Penn National Gaming Inc., a Wyomissing, Pa., owner and manager of casinos and racetracks in the U.S. and Canada.

Peter M. Carlino, founder and chairman of the board, said: “He was immensely insightful, measured, thoughtful. He was a sage, if you will, through all the years he was with me. He was a great friend and mentor, a tremendous person to have on our board. He was at times gruff and quick, but always very precise, ethical in the extreme, always the lawyer.”

A busy volunteer, Mr. Cramer led the College of Physicians of Philadelphia; Mayor’s Commission on Health; and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

He was a leader of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation; 1972 chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and president of the board of the Theodore F. Jenkins Memorial Law Library.

Mr. Cramer was active with his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, as a chairman of the board of managers.

In 2012, he and wife Geraldine created a multimillion-dollar bequest to support the renovation of Silverman Hall on the law school campus. The lecture hall and seminar room were named after the couple.

“Harold is a Philadelphia icon. His footprint on his alma mater and on the legal profession in Philadelphia has been enormous,” said law school dean Michael A. Fitts.

He was a course developer for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a coauthor of Problems and Materials on Trial Advocacy (Foundation Press, 1968).

“They were pioneers in using videotaping to do prep work [for a trial],” his daughter said. “You practiced in front of the video camera and could go over the tapes.”

In recognition of his contributions, Mr. Cramer was awarded the Philadelphia Bar Medal for extraordinary service to the Philadelphia Bar Association and the 1996 Liberty Bowl by the City of Philadelphia.

Mr. Cramer lived in Huntingdon Valley for 15 years before moving in the 1980s to Center City.

He read mysteries and crime books and became obsessed with playing golf starting in the early 1990s. He loved technology gadgets. Though he took photographs, “what he really loved were the cameras,” his daughter said.

His wife and daughter are Mr. Cramer’s only survivors.

Services and interment were private.

Contributions may be made to the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Philadelphia. 2100 Arch St., 5th Floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.