Chester County Leadership: Jack Dooley, Partner, Dischell Bartle Dooley
Jack Dooley, a partner at Dischell Bartle Dooley, spoke with VISTA Today about growing up in Fort Washington and attending Villanova basketball games with his dad, which turned him into a lifelong basketball fan. His experiences with early jobs – washing dishes and cleaning swimming pools – and a stint on the high school debate team led him to a career in law when he realized he wanted a job where every day was different.
Dooley also discussed new developments at the firm, including cutting out his municipal law practice to focus on estate planning and estate administration. He also talked about his passion for community service.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Fort Washington. I’m Montgomery County, through and through, my whole life.
I was the youngest of three and the only boy. My older sister was seven years older than me, and my other sister was five years older than me.
What did your parents do?
My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad was a pharmacist and owned a retail pharmacy in Chestnut Hill. I said my mom was a stay-at-home mom – that’s doing her a disservice because she went down there almost every day to run errands or deliver prescriptions for him.
What memories do you have of growing up in Fort Washington?
I have very good memories. When you’re a child, that’s the only world you know, but it was a beautiful suburban neighborhood. I went to grade school in Ambler at St. Anthony’s.
Did you play any sports when you were growing up?
No. But I love sports – I’ve loved sports all my life – but I wasn’t a very good athlete. I played a little CYO basketball at my parish, but we were a small school, St. Anthony’s. And we always got drubbed pretty good.
But you liked sports – what was it? Are you a competitive person?
I’m not certain. I’m in a business that makes you competitive. I would rather do well than poorly, but I have known very competitive people, and I don’t envy them for being that competitive about so many topics. But I’ve always loved sports as a sports fan. I got that from my dad.
Do you have a favorite ball game that you went to with him?
My favorite memories were college basketball. My father was a big college basketball fan. Although he worked enormous hours, he took me down to the Palestra and out to the Villanova Fieldhouse. We went out on a few Saturdays to see games, and I had great memories of that – the closeness and the intimacy of the basketball arena at that time.
How did you distinguish yourself as a young man?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure I was a distinguished young man. But my dad was in favor of work. My mom was too. So there was no sitting around.
My dad, whose customers included the Sisters of St. Joseph at Chestnut Hill College, got me a job when I was 13 or 14 – the earliest age then when you could get working papers – at Chestnut Hill College working for the St. Joseph’s nuns. The nuns were a tough group. So not only did they teach me at school, they then became my bosses. I worked in landscaping, and I washed dishes.
What other jobs did you have?
I washed an awful lot of dishes. First, I washed dishes for the college, and then I went on to wash dishes at the Pike Restaurant for a while on Bethlehem Pike. Later I washed dishes at the Holiday Inn in Fort Washington when that opened.
When I got a little bit older, again through my dad’s efforts, I got a job with a swimming pool service company. I got that job after my first year of college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. That was hard work, 50 or 60 hours a week, but it was enjoyable. It was good money. I didn’t have much else to do, and it paid much better than dishwashing.
What were the lessons you took from those jobs that still influence you Today?
Well – if you don’t do a good job, what’s the point? People wanted their pool clean; they wanted it to look great. To this day, I think a swimming pool that’s in great shape is beautiful.
That’s probably the first time I had that experience of pride in customers coming out and saying, “Thank you very much.” Of course, I didn’t think about it much then. Still, in retrospect, if we talk about how I got to where I am now, that was a motivating factor – to have people happy to see you and appreciate the job you’ve done for them.
What kind of music floated your boat back then?
I bought a cheap record player as soon as I had saved enough money from working for the nuns. I tell people the story of the first two albums I ever bought, which talks a little bit to the diversity of the music then – I bought The Monkees and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It wasn’t unusual to have those, but I think, wow, how could they be so different? At that point, it was just good music.
Did you have a favorite artist?
Not early on – not really until college. I had favorite songs I would play a great deal, but I appreciated the diversity more. The radio was also very diverse. It was not unusual to go from a Bob Dylan song, a Donovan song, to Iron Butterfly.
You said you went to the University of North Carolina – why there, and where else did you look at?
I think I just wanted to get away from home. It was kind of an adventure. I also applied to Virginia, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Villanova. Another main reason I went there was basketball – I applied to schools with top basketball programs. I stayed there for a year, but the bottom line is I was homesick.
When you came back to Philadelphia, where did you end up going?
I came back to Villanova in ’73. The first year I came back was Rollie Massimino’s first year there as the basketball coach. By my junior year, I got an opportunity to become a manager on the basketball team, which was wonderful. I think the team won maybe eight games that year, but I learned a great deal from being around Rollie Massimino.
When I went to practice every day, I saw how hard Coach Massimino worked and the detail and depth of knowledge required to be a coach and prepare the team to play. I got to sit on the bench at games – I heard the conversations, and saw how hard that fight was. These are all tremendous, tremendous athletes, banging against each other and working so hard, and you recognize the effort.
I learned a lot, but I only did it for a year because that position doesn’t pay. I had to get a job. They were just building the Holiday Inn in Fort Washington, which was blocks away from where I lived, so I wandered in there, met the manager, whose name was Alex Mandrachia, and said, “Hey, can I get a job here?” Alex put me in the kitchen washing dishes. I worked in the kitchen and met many wonderful people.
When did the law bug bite you?
I did not grow up dreaming of being an attorney. However, in high school, I was on the debate team, and I think that had something to do with it. I went to Bishop McDevitt High School, which had an excellent forensic program. I had a friend in high school who needed a debate partner, and I had a class with David Horn, the head of McDevitt’s forensics program, which included debate. Eventually, Mr. Horn asked me to join the team.
High school debate, at that level, you were talking about competition. It was pretty high-level. We went to tournaments in Denver, Houston, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Dartmouth, which is pretty heady stuff for a high school kid. We were pretty good.
I don’t know if that had anything to do with going into law, but standing on my feet in front of a room and being judged and tested, I started to realize, well, apparently, I had the skill of talking and persuading people. That was part of it. And I think I realized that I wasn’t very good at science, and business and accounting seemed dry to me.
I look back at the variety of jobs I had. Because at the Holiday Inn, I became the desk clerk, was a busboy for quite a while, did room service, was a bartender at banquets, and was the night auditor for a period. It wasn’t like clouds parted, but one thing I realized was — I had a job as a checker at the A&P when I was younger – it was the worst job ever. As a checker, I’d constantly glance at the wall’s big clock, and it never moved. I hated that feeling so much that I knew I needed to find work where every day was different.
So, where did you decide to go to law school?
I stayed at Villanova. I met my wife during my senior year at Villanova. She was also a history major. We did not get engaged until law school, and then we got married at Villanova. So I’m Villanova, through and through.
Looking back, was Villanova’s undergrad and law school a good choice for you?
Absolutely. I can’t imagine it working out any better. It’s been a great life.
Looking back over your career, who were the people who saw promise in you and opened up doors?
The Villanova Law School Placement Office. So many of my classmates’ fathers were lawyers, and their uncles were lawyers, and I knew I wasn’t one of them. After your second year – law school is three years total – you’re supposed to get into a law office to clerk for the summer, and hopefully, if they like you, you will move on to a job.
Well, those jobs, at that time, were tough to get. I interviewed, but I wasn’t getting those jobs, so I would go back to the Holiday Inn to work for the summer. Thankfully, I was working the night auditor job, so I was home in the middle of the day. The phone rings in May – school had just ended – and I pick it up, and it’s the Villanova Placement Office. They said, “A fellow just called from Lansdale looking for a clerk for the summer.” That was unheard of to be looking for a clerk in May because you interview for these jobs starting in December.
That fellow turned out to be Mark Dischell, looking for a clerk. I went up and interviewed with Mark the next day, and Mark and his partner at the time, Frank Bartle, were also big sports fans. I had put on my resume that someone they could contact for a recommendation was Rollie Massimino, which jumped out. They offered me a job clerking that summer, and I’ve been with this firm ever since then. That was 1978 – 44 years.
That’s remarkable. Who else saw promise in you?
My mom and dad would be the biggest influences. My mother was a tremendous influence. Her values just flowed from her every day. She was very big on the Golden Rule.
As we near the end of 2022, what are you working on, Jack? What are your priorities and initiatives that you have underway?
My practice has changed a little bit. I did an awful lot of municipal work over the years. Municipal work means being out at township meetings. I just started to realize, with the help of my wife, why am I still coming home at 10:00 and 10:30, and 11:00 at night? So, I told my partner Mark, “I just don’t like this work anymore. I’d much rather do the other aspect of my practice,” which is estate planning and estate administration, and business law. And both my wife and Mark Dischell said, “Then stop doing the municipal work.”
This year, we transferred that aspect because we have excellent lawyers here. My partner, Bob Iannozzi is an outstanding municipal attorney and he was eager and willing to expand that part of his practice. Plus, I enjoy the estate planning work because you meet with so many different people. Everybody needs a will; not everybody needs big land development work done. I’ve met wonderful people over the years.
Are you involved in the community at all?
Yes. Mark and Frank Bartle came into my office in probably 1980 and said, “It’s time for you to join the Kiwanis Club.” I didn’t even know what the hell a Kiwanis Club was, but that was small-town America, and that’s what you did. And I loved it – I met wonderful people and developed great relationships. I joined that very same year and ended up becoming president of the Kiwanis Club.
That led to being on the board of what, at that point, was the fledgling senior center in Lansdale. Once I got on that, I was around older people who have more of an interest in getting wills done. That connection to the senior center led to my estate planning practice.
Now that I was a volunteer on a nonprofit, I was asked to join the United Way board. I was involved with our local United Way for 40 years and became president of that. That exposed me to a lot more people, stories, and information about the function of charitable organizations and nonprofits. So now I’m on the foundation board of Grand View Hospital, which I have not been able to devote the amount of time to that I would like, but it has been fascinating.
So, what do you do with all your free time?
Well, my wife and I have a place at the shore. We run down to Sea Isle, and I enjoy that. But I think my main answer to what I do with my free time is pretty dull – I read. People will ask, “What do you like to do?” and it’s difficult for me to answer other than saying, “I’m reading a great book.” I also walk my dogs. I love my dogs.
What’s the last great book that you read?
I’m just now finishing “Truman” by David McCullough. Fascinating. I’m interested in history and read a lot of history, then I opened up this book, and it was like, I didn’t know that, and that.
What keeps you hopeful in this chaotic world, Jack?
People! People are good. They want the best for themselves and their families, and that’s a positive thing. Day-to-day existence isn’t determined by headlines. You can focus on that and say, oh, the country’s so divided. But I don’t find that. I think the general nature of people is positive and optimistic.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
It was from my mom – like we talked about, the Golden Rule. I know that sounds simple, but I believe there’s a lot of wisdom in that. “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Make friends!
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