Oliver Caldwell Biddle, Attorney and Author Dies at 96
Oliver Biddle, a member of the prominent Philadelphia Biddle family, died of natural causes on March 21st in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Mary Van Sciver Biddle. Mr. Biddle was a veteran of World War II, during which time he served on two destroyers in the South Atlantic and South Pacific. He had a successful career as both a civil and criminal trial lawyer, first at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City and then at Ballard Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, where he served for many years as the Chairman of its Litigation Department. Later in life, he turned to writing, publishing a three-volume historical saga about the Bigelow and Caldwell side of his family.
Oliver Biddle was born in 1921 in Belmont Mass, the third of three brothers. He is pre-deceased by his older brothers Sydney Biddle and Peter Biddle. His father Dr. Sydney Geoffrey Biddle was a prominent early psychoanalyst, who studied with Anna Freud in Vienna, then co-founded of Philadelphia's first Psychoanalytic Institute and first president of the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Society. His mother Olive Caldwell was psychoanalyzed by Carl Jung and Anna Freud.
Oliver Biddle is a direct descendant of William and Sarah Biddle, early settlers and Quakers who came to America 1681 along with William Penn to escape religious persecution in England. Oliver Biddle's great-grandfather was George Washington Biddle, a respected Philadelphia attorney for whom the law library at the University of Pennsylvania is named, and whose three sons, including Oliver's grandfather Algernon Sydney Biddle, all became lawyers. In addition to Sydney Geoffrey, Algernon had three other sons who included Francis Biddle, Attorney General in the Roosevelt Administration and primary US Judge at the Nuremburg trials; George Biddle, an American social realist painter and muralist of note who co-initiated the Federal Art Program under the WPA; and Moncure Biddle, an investment banker and rare book collector whose collection of Greek and Latin manuscripts was donated to the Rare Books Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Oliver Biddle attended St. Bernard's elementary school, Milton Academy, and Harvard College, where he was a member of the naval ROTC. In college, he rowed on an undefeated lightweight varsity crew team and was a member of the Porcellian Club. After graduating in under three years, he was assigned to destroyer duty, first in the South Atlantic on the USS Borie screening convoys against German submarines, and then in the South Pacific on the USS Paul Hamilton screening and patrolling the sea to protect from enemy surface attacks. In a 2012 speech to the Military Committee, Biddle described the battles of Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Mindanao, the sinking of ships by enemy mines and kamikaze, surviving the legendary Typhoon Cobra, and devastating loss of life. His second ship, the USS Paul Hamilton, was the only destroyer in a squadron of eight that had not been sunk by the end of the war.
After the war, Biddle pursued a career in law, graduating from Columbia Law School as a member of its Law Review. He clerked for United States Circuit Court Judge William Hastie, a civil rights leader and the first African American to serve as federal judge. Biddle then served for two years in the Litigation Section of the Department of Justice and for several years in the litigation department of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City. He served on the Bill of Rights Committee of the New York Bar Association and received special recognition from all three New York Bar Associations for his pro bono work. Moving to Philadelphia in the 60's, he joined the firm of Ballard Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll as a partner where he served as Chairman of the Litigation Department.
Oliver Biddle was athletic from an early age. At Milton, he captained the tennis team and competed on an undefeated wrestling team. At Harvard, he was part of an undefeated varsity lightweight crew team who broke a Charles River record. He met his wife Mary while ice dancing at the Wissahickon Skating Club. He remained athletic throughout his life, playing tennis, running, and swimming into his 90s.
Just prior to and following the war, Biddle had three marriages ending in divorce. In 1968 he married Mary Van Sciver of Chestnut Hill, a marriage that lasted until his death. At their home of over 40 years in Chestnut Hill, they cultivated an award-winning garden which they opened to the public for charity and horticultural tours. Together they raised several Jack Russell terriers, and trained their last dog Tess as an "elite" agility competitor, Canine Good Citizen, and registered therapy dog. In 2006, they moved to the Hill at Whitemarsh.
In retirement, Biddle turned to writing, publishing a three-volume, three-generation family narrative which interwove fictional accounts with actual letters, wills, legal documents, and other source materials. He also wrote a memoir reflecting on his war experience, a book about the Biddle legacy which compiled accounts of notable past and present members of the Biddle Family, and several unpublished memoirs about his career and later life in Chestnut Hill with his wife Mary. In Josephine, Biddle drew upon his legal expertise to tell the story of three sisters whose inheritance and convoluted,100-year testamentary trust from their grandmother leads to scandal, betrayal, and internecine family warfare. In That Biddle Boy from Philadelphia, he explores the consequences of the Bigelow will on the next generation, which follows the author's own parents and their deep dive into psychoanalysis with Anna Freud and Carl Jung in Europe.
Beginning in 1938 in college, Oliver Biddle was one of 268 participants in the famed Grant Study, part of a seminal Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School. Lasting nearly 80 years, the Grant Study became one of the world's longest studies of adult life, the goal of which was to identify predictors of healthy aging.
Oliver Biddle was a member of the Philadelphia Club and a life member of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
Oliver Biddle was an accomplished flautist and once served on the Board of Directors at the Philadelphia Musical Academy. He had an extensive collection of classical and jazz recordings. Always a music aficionado, he was, at the time of his death, listening to one of his own compilations of the jazz saxophonist Johnny Hodges. All of his children and step-children were able to visit him in the days before he passed away. In accordance with Oliver Biddle's wishes, there will be no funeral service.
Oliver Biddle is survived by his wife, Mary Van Sciver Biddle, of Whitemarsh, PA; his half-brother Christopher Stark Biddle, of Craftsbury Common, VT; his children, Christine Biddle, of Pound Ridge, NY; Julia Biddle, of Ocean View, HI; Geoffrey Biddle, of Berkeley, CA; Olivia Biddle, of Brooklyn, NY; Claudia Biddle, of Boston, MA; and Vanessa Biddle, of Los Angeles, CA; his step-children, Theresa Crowley, of Malvern, PA, and Tate Anthony, of Westchester, PA; and seven grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.