As busy as he may have been as an attorney, William A. Hylton Jr. lived by a fundamental rule: to answer every email he received from clients, potential clients and strangers within 24 hours.
“He didn’t believe that it was appropriate to make people wait or to keep them wondering if the message was received, or confused or anxious about what his response might be to a question,” said his son, Wil Hylton. “He believed that the duty was on the recipient to reciprocate, and that’s easier said than done. But it’s the kind of thing that guided him.”
Mr. Hylton, who co-founded a law firm that recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary, died Sept. 6 of multiple myeloma at his home in Bolton Hill. He was 77.
Julian L. “Jack” Lapides, a Baltimore attorney and longtime former member of the state Senate, knew Mr. Hylton since teaching him in a general science class at Catonsville High School when Mr. Hylton was a freshman. The two became reacquainted as neighbors for more than 50 years.
“Bill was not only brilliant as a student, but he was also a brilliant attorney,” Mr. Lapides said. “Very modest, self-effacing to a certain extent, but sharp, clever, with a great sense of humor. He was just a wonderful, generous human being.”
The eldest of three children born to the former Alice Bondurant (whose family was the subject of a book called “The Wettest County in the World” and a movie called “Lawless”), a homemaker, and William A. Hylton Sr., a cattle broker, Mr. Hylton grew up in Catonsville and graduated from Catonsville High School in 1961.
Mr. Lapides said Mr. Hylton “aced” every test he took in Mr. Lapides' science course. But Mr. Lapides recalled an instance when Mr. Hylton lagged behind his classmates.
“I had a rule for grading that it was one-third test scores and one-third participation in class, and he was tops in both of those. And it was one-third for your notebook,” Mr. Lapides said. “Well, Bill Hylton had no notebook. I said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to give you a D for this quarter.’ He had never had a D in his life, and he was absolutely horror-stricken. But actually, the third quarter never counted, and when the fourth quarter came, I raised the grade to an A. But I thought that I had to teach him a lesson that the rules are rules and that they should be followed.”
A standout attackman in high school, Mr. Hylton developed even further at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. His single-game school record for points of 13 on May 5, 1963, stood for 54 years, and his average of 2.55 assists still ranks first in program history.
The younger Mr. Hylton, a contributing writer for The New York Times, said his father, who was “obsessed” with lacrosse, thrived behind the net as the quarterback of the offense.
“He saw it as a place where he could look out over the field and see all of these vectors converging on the opponent’s goal, and he would often be the person who would pass the ball to someone and control the direction of play for the attack,” he said from his home in Baltimore. “That was how he thought about it — more as a game of strategy than a purely physical or endurance challenge.”
After graduating from Kenyon in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and from Harvard Law School in 1968, Mr. Hylton returned to Baltimore, working for several law firms as a trial lawyer and specializing in civil litigation.
Then in 1980, Mr. Hylton joined Louise Gonzales to form Hylton & Gonzales in the 200 block of N. Charles St. Mr. Hylton considered himself fortunate to find a law partner like Mrs. Gonzales.
“My father had told me over the years that he was very lucky that the world was as retrograde as it had been because a lot of people he had ended up working with, they might have been snatched by New York law firms or something like that,” his son said. “He always felt like his partnership with Louise was just a very deep connection. She visited him a lot during the last two months of his life, and I think she would sometimes look for something she needed him to sign so that there would be a specific reason to come by.”
Mr. Hylton said his father did pro bono work for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, was involved with the Maryland Institute for the Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers, and chaired the Young Lawyers Association. Working with future attorneys was a top priority for his father.
“I think his biggest passion professionally was his relationships with other lawyers and especially younger lawyers,” the younger Mr. Hylton said. “He was very interested in advocating for and helping talented young lawyers in their careers and helping them find a way forward to make the most of their talents.”
The former Carol Williamson said she met Mr. Hylton at a Christmas party at her parents' home in Roland Park on Christmas Eve in 1969. A courtship encouraged by her sister, Lane, accelerated quickly and the couple married Sept. 19, 1970, in Baltimore.
Mrs. Hylton said when she met her husband, she had dropped out of college after four years with no degree and was teaching kindergarten at a day care.
“I really didn’t feel like I was a scholar and not even somebody who was academically inclined,” she said. “Somehow just from being with this man who had an amazing way to make a person feel competent and able and better, a few years into our marriage, I went back to college [what is now Towson University] and got that degree [in psychology] and went to graduate school [University of Maryland] and got a clinical social work degree. I know that for a fact, it was all because of how much he believed in me.”
Mr. Hylton enjoyed discussing politics and reading books, once digesting “The Story of Civilization,” an 11-volume set of books by Will and Ariel Durant covering world history.
His greatest passion, however, was traveling to favorite destinations, such as Spain, Greece, Africa and Central Asia. Mrs. Hylton said her husband’s desire to visit distant locales stemmed from an innate sense of curiosity.
“When he knew he was dying, the worst part for him was all that he wasn’t going to be able to discover and know anymore,” Mrs. Hylton said, adding that her husband had compiled a collection of more than 100 flags from the countries they had visited. “He just needed to know. He wanted to know about so many things, and travel fit into that.”
Mr. Lapides said the Hylton family was renowned in the neighborhood for throwing elaborate parties during the Kentucky Derby at which the children collected $1 bets from guests who had to correctly predict the top two finishers.
“He was just a delight to be around,” Mr. Lapides said of Mr. Hylton. “He was gracious. He was very low-key and not at all braggadocious. And he was highly respected in the legal community.”
Mr. Hylton donated his body to scientific research and will be cremated. A memorial service is being planned, possibly for Jan. 30, which would have been his 78th birthday.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Hylton is survived by one daughter, Kira Hamman of Smithsburg; one brother, Walter Hylton of Staunton, Virginia; one sister, Deborah Hylton of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.