The recent retirement of nationally known and distinguished attorney for 54 years, Frank Vecchione stirred many wonderful memories for me, as he is my uncle and one that I admired very much. Sought by national companies and individuals to guide them through bankruptcy, my uncle is one of eight children born to Italian immigrants who owned a successful bread bakery on 8th Avenue in Newark, New Jersey.
When I was seven years old, I remember going with him in the truck to deliver bread for my grandfather. He was the one they called “Junior,” having been named for his father and my grandfather. My uncle hated when anyone called him Junior and was quick to “correct” that person. He was the only member of his family to attend college, graduating from Syracuse University. I was there as a seven or eight year old to see him graduate. A young U.S. Senator by the name of John F. Kennedy was the commencement speaker. That day, I met a good friend of my uncle’s, football legend Jim Brown. He graduated also that day.
I would watch my uncle work his way through Seton Hall Law School nights, while keeping a day job. Upon his graduation, he was hired by Andrew Crummy, who was one of New Jersey’s most highly regarded attorneys, to join his firm. My uncle would be steered by Mr. Crummy and then Judge Vincent Commisa to seriously consider bankruptcy as his specialty and how glad he would be, as his expertise and advice would soon be sought after by many.
Never too busy to listen to anyone who wanted to speak or share thoughts, he would become a true role model to countless young attorneys and one nephew. My uncle and I travelled many times to Italy together with his late wife, Polly and my wife. I will always treasure that time together, especially at night with Johnny Walker Blue and a cigar and talks.
I was proud to honor my uncle with the Italian Tribune Man of the Year award a few years ago. He is quite an accomplished Italian American.
The following is an excerpt from the original Op-Ed that appeared in the New Jersey Law Journal and was written by attorneys Fred Alworth and Karen Giannelli.
They wanted to honor the Dean of the Bankruptcy Bar, their partner, mentor and friend on his 50-year retirement from their practice of law.
A TRIBUTE TO FRANK VECCHIONE
Frank Vecchione recently retired after over 50 years of practice. He is a true treasure, representing the best in our profession. His protégé, Karen Giannelli, and I, both lifers at the firm he helped found, got together with Frank last week and wanted to let him know how much he means to us and share some thoughts on an extraordinary person.
Many know Frank as Dean of the New Jersey Bankruptcy Bar and senior member of Crummy, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione (now Gibbons P.C.), but he is so much more than that. Professor, veteran, family man, tough as nails, a gentleman and mentor who led by example and shaped the lives of so many. A prolific attorney who never lost his temper, cool, calm under pressure, guiding clients through the most difficult times in their professional lives when their financial worlds were caving in. Nobody was more respected in the courtroom. Nobody.
Often, on motion days, lawyers would stay after their cases were called to watch Frank argue. He would say it’s the highest compliment after beating someone in a case if the lawyer or adverse client (often a bank) turns around and hires you. This happened often, as everyone wanted Frank on their team – not adverse. He would fight hard as a true professional and zealous advocate but remind us that it is our clients’ problem, not ours, and our job is to solve problems, not create more by animosity. Active in Italian American philanthropy and Newark youth projects, he is a self-made man, the youngest of eight children and the only sibling to attend college – Syracuse University. He then served in the Army and rose to the highest heights in our profession.
When we think about those who shaped our own lives and careers, it is so important to remember and honor those who had such a big influence on us. He taught for over 25 years at Seton Hall Law School and was ultimately recognized as its Alumni of the Year. Frank was a natural teacher and mentor. Many of his bankruptcy cases would involve every discipline of the practice – corporate, litigation, real estate, labor, tax.
Organically, we at the firm would gravitate to Frank for counsel and advice, but he encouraged us to figure it out and come back with our suggestions to workshop, as a law school professor would do. He treated everyone with respect, never forgetting his humble beginnings. A true pioneer of the New Jersey Bankruptcy Bar, he helped shape not only our firm but the Federal Bankruptcy practice for decades, as he was responsible for establishing Third Circuit precedential law on adequate protection for secured creditors, claims estimation procedures, and Chapter 11 plan classification rules. In his noteworthy cases, he represented firm namesake John Gibbons, as Trustee of Marvel Entertainment, and served as debtor’s counsel in the bankruptcies of Western Union, American Family Enterprises, Dunes Casino and Bloomfield College, the first college to confirm a plan under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act, among many others.
We are grateful for what he did for us and so many others. In his honor, we at Gibbons try to pay it forward. Thus, when we see a young person in the profession, we try to give him or her an opportunity. Frank would advise us that every time you are out at a function, bar event, or charitable endeavor, you never know whom you might meet who could change the course of your life. You changed ours, Frank, and we are forever grateful. Gibbons will miss you, but we will remember all you did for us, the Bar and the New Jersey legal profession.