Firm Foundation: Thomas J. Scanlon

Firm Foundation: Thomas J. Scanlon
By Ken Callahan

If you have not yet purchased “The Day We Celebrate,” edited primarily by Dr. Margaret Lynch and published under the auspices of the Irish American Achieves, I would urge you to do so. While the book tracks the history of the Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it’s whole is far more than those parts: with real, original scholarship and an intellectual rigor rare for a popular history, the book tells the history of Irish Catholics in Cleveland in an unparalleled historical definition of the struggles of the early immigrants, through the Civil War, the tensions that shaped and propelled a distinct ethnic community into a group that continues to contribute inordinately to the life of the greater community.

And like all historical phenomena that evade extinction, the Irish American community story is not static but instead a story that continues to unfold through time, through the lives of the living. Our shared history is woven by personages large and small, with various eras bearing particular marks of those who preceded us. But when the future historian seeks to recount the central leaders of the Cleveland Irish American community of the last half century, surely among them will be Thomas J. Scanlon. 

The consistent attributes that seems to have been shared by leaders of the Irish American community in Northern Ohio, regardless of era or object of endeavor, are an enthusiasm for a project’s fruition and the dedication, vision and commitment for the desired result to obtain.  

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor: “The name Tom Scanlon is synonymous with Cleveland Irish Legal Community.  His leadership in forming the Irish American Legal Society of Cleveland is recognized and greatly appreciated by its members.   His enthusiasm for any project that he is involved with ensures its success because he motivates people to want to be involved. 

“Philanthropy aside, Tom is recognized for his skill and knowledge as he practices his profession.  Not only does Tom practice law, honor his heritage and his profession, and support many charitable and cultural causes, he also finds the time to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Bar Examiners.  Twice a year Tom formulates exam questions and then grades the answers of the test takers.  He is truly a man of many talents who gives freely of those talents and his time.   Tom is one of the most generous people I will ever have the good fortune to know.” 

The Scanlons arrived in America well before many of us; Tom’s dads grandfather, Michael Scanlon, was born in Ireland in 1803 and died in Cleveland on October 26, 1885. Michael and Honeria Flanagan produced Tom, Patrick and Mary Ann Scanlon. The Scanlons were long landowners and residents of the Scranton Road and Tremont area.

Honeria (“Ann”) were members of the then-Irish Parish of St. Augustine at W. 14th Street; a stained-glass window continues to bear their names. For reasons lost to the mists of time, perhaps some family fissure, Tom’s parents, Tom Sr. and Marie Grady, did not migrate out to West Park but moved instead to a 5-bedroom home in Our Lady of Good Consul Parish in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland.

Tom’s dad was fortunate in the throes of the Depression to be employed as a conductor/brakeman for the New York Central Railroad; before he died when he was 6, Tom recalls attending events at the West Side IA on Madison. His brother, Johnny Scanlon, died in 2012, while his sister, Sister Elizabeth Marie, a Notre Dame nun who has spent her vocation teaching at a number of institutions, resides in Chardon.

Tom Scanlon is in every respect a self-made man. He earned and paid his way through St. Ignatius High School from 1956-1959; and graduated in three years from John Carroll, earning his BA in the Arts and Business/Poly Sci. He was awarded a J.D. from Marshall Law in 1963, where he graduated cum laude, and was Editor of the Law Review.
Tom was a financial analyst in the day for Tremco Manufacturing and was in charge of the law library. He began working at Shapiro Persky doing business, tax and Probate from 1963 to 1970.

In 1971, he formed a partnership with Charley Donahue, who had left Calfee, becoming Donahue and Scanlon, and originators of the St. Patrick Day parties the stuff of legend. At a JCU event, Tom met Robert Briscoe, the first Jewish Mayor of Dublin, and later met his son, Ben, through Sam Miller, who Tom persuaded to attend as an honoree for the Party. Sam encouraged Tom to bring an annual guest from Ireland for the event known throughout Greater Cleveland as “The Scanlon Party.”

Tom was part of a group including Jack Coyne, Pat Leneghan, Packy Hyland, Gerry Quinn and others who first sought to support political candidates, but later evolved to create the Irish-American Charitable Foundation.

To list the various Irish American groups Tom Scanlon has assisted either financially, through business advice or in creating will, by numbers or omission, defy every mention. Tom almost single handily founded the Irish American Law Society of Cleveland, which sponsors biennial symposia in Cleveland and Ireland, a group the lawyers from around the US now look to as a model for an American Irish Society. Yet tens of thousands of this community recognize Tom Scanlon as providing the central spoke of leadership, the spiritual epicenter of connectiveness. Thomas J. and Anita M. (Marciante) Scanlon were married September 14, 1963, while he was awaiting bar exam results.  They have four daughters – Elizabeth M. Donnelly, Colleen A. Miller, Cynthia D. Roether and Kimberly S. Klein.

The recently elected Administrative Judge for Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Brendan Sheehan, states: “Tom Scanlon is a dedicated Irishman who puts everyone else above himself.  He is a great lawyer and exemplifies generosity in all he does. Tom Scanlon started a   tradition of having his St Patrick’s Day party honoring many dignitaries from Ireland.   Mr. Scanlon’s love for the Irish community can be seen and everything he has done in his legal career.”

I am honored to have been partners with Tom Scanlon these last years, as he continues his law practice at Hawkins and Hawkins Co. LLC. And more than that, I share as with so many others the pleasure of his  valuable friendship.

*Ken Callahan is a retired Common Pleas Judge and a partner at Hawkins & Company, LLC.. He is on the boards of Irish Archives and Irish American Law Society. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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