Local lawyer-activist-humorist David Silver dies at 87

At the age of 5, David Silver sold newspapers on a street corner in Portland, Ore., to help out his immigrant parents. Later, he became a pioneer in the field of legal aid for the poor.

Silver, who was active in numerous organizations, both legal and Jewish, died on June 15 in Stanford. He was 87.

Silver was born in Portland on June 26, 1916. An elderly Jewish violinist taught him and his brother how to box, so they could protect themselves from the tougher boys in the neighborhood. But some boys always looked out for him.

He became a star athlete in high school and continued to be one at the University of Oregon, where he attended on a basketball scholarship. He also participated in track and field. After graduating, he attended law school there, graduating with honors in 1940.

Silver was 17 when his youngest brother was born, and he became almost like a father to him.

“He grew up during the Depression, and saw how his family suffered,” said his daughter, Barbara Monie of Paris. “He went into law because he wanted to make sure that he could support his family.”

In 1932, he married Winifred Green.

Silver was one of the first special agents to be hired by the FBI, receiving a special letter of commendation from then-bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover. He worked in the FBI from 1940 to 1945.

In 1945, he settled in Menlo Park. He returned to his law practice, and was part of the defense team for the Hollywood Ten, accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

From 1952 to 1963 he served as chief counsel of the San Francisco Legal Aid Society, providing free legal services to the poor.

Then he went into private practice, specializing in estate planning, real estate and business law. He also continued to dedicate many hours to his pro-bono clients.

His legal skills extended into his family life. Dale Silver, his daughter who lives in San Francisco, recalled arguing with her father, who would automatically take the opposite point of view. Only later did she learn that he did so just to make her think about the other side, when in fact, he agreed with her all along.

During the Civil Rights era, he served as a mediator between the business and African-American communities of Menlo Park, and worked to provide job training for minority youth.

Silver held many positions in local, state and national lawyers associations.

At Palo Alto’s Congregation Beth Am, where he was an active member, he taught a class in ancient Jewish history for adults, and an ethics course for teens, applying Talmudic principles to modern-day problems.

He served on the boards of several Jewish organizations, including Homewood Terrace, a San Francisco Jewish orphanage; Hebrew Immigration Aid Society; the Jewish Welfare Federation, the forerunner of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation; and the Jewish Committee for Personal Service, which provided social services for Jews in mental hospitals and prisons.

Recalling her father as a wonderful cook who could make many of the Jewish classics, Monie said she especially remembers his blintzes with cream cheese. “He often cooked me a very Jewish breakfast in the morning,” Monie said.

Silver also had a fanciful imagination, telling stories to his grandchildren about characters that he made up. He also was an amateur cartoonist and published political cartoons, but also drew funny ones just for family members’ birthdays.

In addition to wife Winifred Silver of Menlo Park and his two daughters, Silver is survived by two grandsons, and brother Arnold Silver of Portland.

Donations can be sent to Congregation Shaarie Torah, 920 N.W. 25th Ave., Portland, OR 97401, or The Duck Athletic Fund, c/o Mike Marlow, 2727 Leo Harris Parkway, Eugene, OR 97401.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."