R. Roland “Brock” Brockmeyer, an orphan who overcame poverty and after earning a law degree became an advocate for the less fortunate, died Sunday of heart failure at his Hunt Valley home. He was 86.
“I’ve known Roland for more than 40 years, when I was a young prosecutor,” said retired Maryland Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Jr. “We tried cases together and a lot of criminal cases, and he was always a gentleman. He was a good lawyer, not shady, a good adversary, and never pulled any tricks. He was always well-prepared and well-liked in the profession.”
Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy has been a friend and colleague of Mr. Brockmeyer’s for 51 years.
“He was a great guy and the complete package. He loved people, and he worked day and night for his clients,” Mr. Murphy said. “He was honest as the day is long, and his word was his bond.”
Richard Roland Brockmeyer — he never used his first name — was the son of Matthew Valentine Brockmeyer and his wife, Adele Anna Kansler Brockmeyer. He was born in Baltimore and spent his early years in Hamilton.
After his father died when he was 2, and his mother when he was 8, he was placed in St. Vincent’s Infant Asylum on Reisterstown Road and later at St. Mary’s Industrial School on Wilkens Avenue, where he taught himself to read.
“He was never formally educated in school settings due to moving throughout places but eventually taught himself how to read in order to escape the reality around him,” John Grason Turnbull III, his son-in-law and law partner, wrote in a biographical profile.
“His love of reading is what ultimately led him up from poverty. He said books taught him there was another world out there for him and made him want to survive his daily childhood,” Mr. Turnbull wrote. “This also started his lifetime passion for history.”
Eventually, Mr. Brockmeyer was sent to a foster family, the Youngs, in Westminster, who were the “first people to show him warmth and love since his mother’s passing,” his son-in-law wrote.
After leaving his foster home when he was a teenager, Mr. Brockmeyer embarked on a series of jobs. He was a runner for a stationery company, a drugstore soda jerk and a pin boy in a bowling alley.
When he was 17, he lied about his age and joined the Air Force, where he was trained as a medic. While he was in the service, he earned his General Educational Development diploma.
After being discharged from the Air Force in 1956, he attended Baltimore Junior College on the G.I. Bill while working at Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s Sparrows Point plant. Ever ambitious, on weekends he worked in corner bars, drove an armored car and became a member of the Teamsters union, drove an ice cream truck and taxi, and sold frying pans at Stewart’s department store.
He was living in a basement apartment on St. Paul Street one night in 1957 when, rather than go to the German bars he usually frequented with friends, he decided to go to a Polish bar. A man there asked if he wanted to meet his sister, and that’s how he became acquainted with Lorraine Jarowski of East Baltimore, whom he married three years later.
When he met his future wife, she hadn’t graduated from high school and he insisted she earn her GED and go to college.
“He always said he wanted his wife to be his equal and his partner in every sense of the word. That if he was to be educated, then she would have to be too. Both worked two jobs to put themselves through college,” his son-in-law wrote.
“He took amazing pride in how far they both had come with no formal education. He always stated that he owed his success in life to meeting Lorraine, that she had the same determination, grit and work ethic to succeed. They fought together side by side to get themselves out of poverty and have a new life,” Mr. Turnbull wrote. “They knew there was a different life out there for them if they could just fight hard enough to get there.”
After earning her GED, Mrs. Brockmeyer entered what is now Towson University, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree. She taught at Middlesex Elementary School while her husband, who had earned an associate degree from Baltimore Junior College, worked as an insurance adjuster by day while attending night school at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He obtained his law degree in 1964.
Mr. Brockmeyer, who barely had an elementary school education, passed the Maryland State Bar examination with the fourth-best score in the state in 1964, his son-in-law said.
In 1964, he established a solo practice on Fayette Street in the Insurance Co. of North America building, and it was here that his “passion to help others who had no one, just like he had once been, began,” Mr. Turnbull wrote.
His area of practice included litigation/plaintiff, traffic/DWI, and worker compensation cases.
He welcomed Black clients and got to be well-known in the African American community, becoming their “brother, father and guardian angel,” Mr. Turnbull said.
Mr. Brockmeyer would charge $700 for a murder trial because no one else would take those cases. He also took on cases involving Blacks on the Eastern Shore because no one else would do it, his son-in-law said.
“He’d fight like hell and was a tiger in the courtroom, and his clients became close friends,” Mr. Murphy said.
“He felt a strong passion for those less fortunate and that was more important than the ivory tower and prestige,” Mr. Turnbull said.
In 1983, he purchased the dilapidated Chimney Corner building, a St. Paul and Centre street landmark that survived the War of 1812, and had it renovated. He was joined in his practice by his wife, who was the firm’s CFO.
His daughter, Adele Brockmeyer, began going to court with her father when she was 12, worked in his office and observed his compassion for his clients. She graduated from law school and with her husband, Mr. Turnbull, established a law practice in Towson. In addition to their practice in Towson, they joined Mr. Brockmeyer’s practice three years ago.
Mr. Brockmeyer was known for his pro bono work as he wrote letters to landlords, tried to resolve minor differences or called an employer to smooth out a problem. He kept a list of his most at-risk clients, which he checked monthly to make sure they had no needs.
He retired in 2019.
In recognition of the University of Baltimore Law School’s taking a chance on a Baltimore orphan, Mr. Brockmeyer established a scholarship for night school students who needed financial assistance for tuition, and in 1997, the law school student lounge was named for him.
He was a lifetime member of the Baltimore City Bar Association, Maryland State Bar Association and American Bar Association.
Interested in history, Mr. Brockmeyer was a Civil War buff who had visited almost every major battlefield. He was a member of the Baltimore Civil War Roundtable and the Curtis B. Vickery Roundtable of Military History.
He was a founding member of the Marriottsville Muzzle Loaders, a member the German Society of Maryland, and the Ancient and Honorable Mechanical Company of Baltimore. He was a season-ticket holder of the Baltimore Colts and Ravens.
It was Mr. Brockmeyer’s wish that there be no funeral, and plans for a celebration-of-life party in the fall for family, friends and clients are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of 61 years and son-in-law, he is survived by a son, Matthew Valentine Brockmeyer of Humboldt County, California; his daughter, Adele Brockmeyer of Lutherville; and four grandchildren.