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Joseph C. Wich Jr., longtime Towson-area attorney, dies

Joseph C. Wich Jr., a retired Towson attorney who had been a partner in the litigation division of the Venable firm, died of cancer Feb. 3 at his Hunt Valley home. He was 70.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Wiltondale, he was the son of Dr. J. Carlton Wich, a pediatrician, and his wife Elizabeth M. Sanders, a homemaker.

He was a 1965 graduate of Loyola High School and obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Washington and Lee University. He was a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law. He played lacrosse in high school and college as an attackman.

In 1973 he married Virginia “Ginger” Ewald. They met through a mutual friend on a blind date in 1964 at a Sherwood Forest Sadie Hawkins Dance.

He practiced law with Cook, Howard, Downes & Tracy, a Towson firm that in 1989 merged with Venable. He had been a partner in the litigation division for 20 years.

“Joe was a down-to-earth, happy person who loved parties and people and always smiled at the ironies of life,” said former colleague and friend Cynthia M. Hahn.

“Joe was a master of taking mountains of structured and unstructured information and translating it all into clear and decisive action,” she said. “This was especially effective in complex product liability cases, where he could take a difficult set of facts or principles and lay out an analytical road map of how to reach the right conclusion for his clients. And he did it with great confidence and ease.”

Colleagues said Mr. Wich spent nearly 10 years defending Goodyear against the claims of more than 60 former employees of an old Kelly-Springfield tire plant in Cumberland. After numerous hearings and appeals to the Fourth Circuit, as well as a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, he secured judgment in Goodyear’s favor on all of the claims.

Mr. Wich also represented Harford County in a case against Shell Oil and the Shell Oil Chemical companies involving thousands of feet of failing plastic piping used underground to carry water from mains to curbside meters throughout the county.

“With a relentless cross-examination in a pre-trial deposition of Shell’s primary chemical expert, Joe was able to unearth a critical flaw in the defense, thereby forcing Shell to settle with the county for millions,” said Ms. Hahn.

“His lawyering was meticulous,” she said. “He prepared zealously, organized precisely and easily controlled a courtroom with his relentless, yet always calm and methodical, examinations and arguments.

She said Mr. Wich “communicated well with juries. He had a big athletic build and he would take control in the courtroom. He inspired scores of young lawyers to imitate not only his style, but also his substance.”

“Joe and I represented adverse parties in prolonged litigation in the federal courts. Sometimes, it seemed like we wore a rut in the road to the Fourth Circuit in Richmond,” said attorney G. Macy Nelson of Towson. “Joe was obviously trained by good lawyers who knew when to accommodate and when to dig in. Lesser lawyers don’t always appreciate the distinction. I will miss him.”

A natural athlete, Mr. Wich enjoyed tennis, skiing, golf and swimming. Beginning in 1962, he competed in both Chesapeake Bay and ocean boat racing. One winter in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference — a regatta of ocean races spanning the coasts of Florida and the Bahamas — Mr. Wich was a crew member aboard a 57-foot yacht.

“As gale force winds and tall waves slammed into the boat and spun its oversized mast, the crew thought the vessel might split in two,” said Ms. Hahn. “All survived in one piece, but thereafter Joe confined his racing to bay waters on various boats.”

He was also a coach for Cockeysville Recreation Council lacrosse. He coached his son, Joseph C. “Jay” Wich III, as well as Ryan Boyle and Damien Davis — who both went on to become All-Americans at Princeton and professional players.

“As an 11-year-old lacrosse player, he helped me solidify my interest in the sport,” said Davis, of Baltimore. “”He was then a busy lawyer and he volunteered eight to 10 hours a week at the rec league. It was very kind of him”

He also coached his daughter’s basketball league.

“His main activity was sharing his time with his children,” said his wife. “He was always encouraging them and was involved in their lives.”

From 1973 to 2005, Mr. Wich and his wife were weekly patrons at the old Maison Marconi restaurant on West Saratoga Street in downtown Baltimore. His wife said he preferred beef tenderloin Monte Carlo.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, 13717 Cuba Road in Hunt Valley, where he was a member.

In addition to his wife of 45 years, who is the author and illustrator of five children’s books, and his son, who lives in Hong King, survivors include a daughter, Virginia “Ginny” Reed of Baltimore.

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