Born in 1922 in New York City during his family’s brief foray away from Pittsburgh, Robert Raphael returned to his beloved Pittsburgh as a young child and remained a resident for the remainder of his life, leaving only to travel and serve his country in World War II. As he travelled the world, he would tell everyone who would listen about Pittsburgh’s wonders—its beauty, its livability, and, of course, his cherished Steelers. He would brag about Pittsburgh’s connection to Gene Kelly, from whom he took one dancing lesson at Beth Shalom. He bragged about its culture and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, where, when he was still poor, he could see the most famous actors and actresses of his day perform by volunteering as an usher. He bragged about its sports teams and Three Rivers Stadium where he was sitting when Franco Harris made his “immaculate reception,” although he missed the whole thing when he sat down prematurely believing that the game was lost.
Robert graduated From Taylor Allderdice High School at the age of 16, and worked as a clerk in the office of Levinson Steel before enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps on December 6, 1942. Although he passed the examination to become either a pilot, bombardier, or navigator, he chose the latter, having heard that the food was best at navigator school. He went on to fly thirty-five missions over Germany, Italy, and Austria as a Navigator on a B-17G in the Fifteenth Air Force, 463d Bomb Group, stationed in Foggia, Italy, receiving an air medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and a distinguished Unit Citation with four battle stars.
As someone always filled with gratitude, Robert marveled at the opportunities the G.I. bill placed before him—graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in three years with a degree in Economics in 1948, and from the Law School in 1950. Had he not passed the bar examination on the first try, he always noted, he would not have been able to pay for a second attempt, as his G.I. funds had run dry, and he had not a dollar to spare. He opened his own law office as a general practitioner until settling on family law by chance—a field in which he thrived, never succumbing to the fray often associated with the specialty. He was the consummate gentleman lawyer, always placing ethics and morality over all else and mentoring young lawyers to follow him along the high road.
That reputation for being fair, ethical, respectful and adept paid off in spades. The pile of plaques and awards he received became too many for the walls of his office and spilled into cupboards and floors. Eventually he became President of the Allegheny County Bar Association, President of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, Vice President of the national arm of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and President of the Pennsylvania chapter, and an original member of the secret elite, “Dirty Thirty,” of top family lawyers from around the country. Colloquially, he was known as the “father of divorce law,” leading the reform of family law in Pennsylvania. He authored a plethora of books, articles, and treatises on family law, created continuing education courses, lectured, taught, and served on too many bar committees to count.
Once, when the director of the Bar Institute asked Robert to give a course on retirement plans for lawyers, he enthusiastically agreed—despite knowing nothing about them. He studied, taught the course, and then established a pension plan that out-performed investments set up by the professional bankers with whom he often compared notes. From that time on, his hobby became studying markets, investing, and advising others. He e-mailed a spread sheet every month to friends, relatives, colleagues, doctors, neighbors and anyone he met, giving advice on investments— whether you wanted it or not.
An ardent feminist, he filled his law firm with smart, capable women, including his first wife, Phyllis, who joined him in practice in 1977. Perhaps one of his greatest contributions was, according to his partners, inventing the “work life balance” before that term was ever in popular use. His secretary had standing orders to put his wife and children through to him on the phone no matter what. And without regard to the import of a meeting or the prestige of its participants, at noon he would rise and excuse himself for lunch, often lunching with his regular group of judges and lawyers at their reserved table at Kaufmanns. He never cancelled plans for the theater or dinner with friends, even if he had a trial the next day. He prepared arduously and then called it a day. He said time and again that for him, going to work was like going on vacation.
But his most cherished job was that of husband and father. In an era before it became common, Robert was a co-equal caregiver to his two daughters, Edith and Lauren Raphael—changing diapers, tucking in at night, and driving car pool while entertaining with the worst of Dad jokes. He demanded frequent phone calls when his children travelled—a call from the road, from the taxiway upon arrival, and again upon reaching home.
Perpetually optimistic and positive, he found joy in every aspect of life, beauty in every city he visited, entertainment in every aisle of a grocery store, pleasure in every off-key note he sang, glee in his not-so-polished dance moves, and satisfaction in any bite of chocolate. Known for his aphorisms, his family always knew when each would appear. A prime parking spot would elicit “clean living pays off;” a job done halfway— “if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all;” and “moderation in all things”—an aphorism he lived by imbibing one and only one Manhattan cocktail nearly every day of his adult life. During the war he ate one coveted chocolate covered almond every night, despite the risk that he would be shot down and not able to finish. But finish them he did. The day that the Germans shot down his airplane, he had been grounded by the doctor for a gastrointestinal illness.
Although he would always see his life as charmed, his greatest sorrow was losing his first wife, Phyllis (nee Rubinstein), at the age of 51 and after only 23 years of marriage. But not the type to let sorrow rule his life, he went on to find love again, with his new bride, Gail Sanger, with whom he shared his life for 28 years. A few years back he wrote to his surviving B-17 crew mates, “I remarried 11 years ago to a wonderful woman by the name of Gail and frankly I have had two wonderful wives.” He called her his “bride” until the day he died. He never saw the irony of being the most happily married divorce lawyer in America—twice.
No one has ever loved life quite the way Robert did. And he hung onto it for more than 96 years, sharing that joy of life with his grandchildren Parker and Naomi Brotman, Sophie Raphael, and Maya Herron, and step grand-children Seth and Alec Rill, Ethan and Laighton Shamash, and Asher Shamash—who emerged into this world just as Robert was leaving it. With his large heart he embraced his three step-children— Lori (Sean Rill), Mark Shamash (Elisa Rhodehamel), and Todd Shamash (Erika) and adored his son-in-laws, Russ Herron and Daniel Brotman, the latter with whom he remained close even when his official attachment to the family ended. He was the adored Uncle Bob to Eric (Lois) and the late Nathan Raphael, Jody Gan (Michael), Albert Costilo (Karen), and their children, Gabriel, Zachary, Luna and Sarah.
Robert left the world as he lived in it—eking out the wonder of life and love until the very end; fighting to get better and opening his eyes to say “You’re beautiful” or “I love you” to his wife and daughters until he could not any longer.-->