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Edith I. Spivack graduated from Columbia Law School in the Great Depression year of 1932, one of six women in a class of 94. It was a time when women represented just 2.4 percent of the legal profession. Only 12 years had passed since American women won the right to vote. Nonetheless, Spivack was actually hired by a private Manhattan firm. But when the boss got wind of her wedding plans, she was sacked for fear that she would become pregnant. “Mother always told me, ‘Everything happens for the best,’” Spivack, 94, said in a recent interview. “There are times when you’re sad and depressed, but you have to recover and go on. Life is tough if you don’t go through it joyfully.” In that spirit, Spivack landed another job, in 1934, during the first term of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, this time with the New York City Law Department as an assistant corporate counsel. Her specialty was real estate taxation. She stayed put for 70 years — working for 23 corporation counsels under 10 mayors — juggling career with a husband and two children. She ended her productive run last month during a gala sendoff officiated by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It was Spivack’s second retirement. Nine years ago, at age 85, she officially left the Law Department at the rank of executive assistant corporation counsel. But she continued coming to the office. During those years, said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, she mentored young attorneys with her “matchless experience, endless exuberance and grandmotherly concern.” “I try to give them the benefits of what I’ve learned,” said Spivack. “I tell them, for instance, if somebody wants an adjournment for five days, don’t argue. It means nothing. Some day you might want five days yourself.” And: “You have to lead a normal life in addition to practicing law. You should have fun. You should get married and have children and become involved in the children’s activities. You can do it.” At last month’s event, Bloomberg addressed an overflow crowd of Spivack’s colleagues in the ceremonial chamber of City Hall. “Edith represents the city,” he said. “She’s everything we teach our kids about deportment and how to work with everyone.” Bloomberg joked with the lady of the hour saying, “Edith’s now going to talk for the next hour and a half about dividend taxation.” Spivack, in a neat black suit, pearl-gray turtleneck and crepe-soled shoes, rose from her chair on the arm of Cardozo, and took over the mayor’s lectern. There she related the story of one of her biggest cases — the recovery of $93 million in unpaid taxes during the Penn Central Railroad’s bankruptcy proceedings in the early 1970s. “That was a tough job,” she said. She won knowing chortles with, “I had to go down to Philadelphia.” She put in a technical paragraph or two on the details of litigating in federal bankruptcy court, turned to Bloomberg, a non-lawyer, and said, “I don’t want to get too legal.” “I’m not going anyplace,” said the mayor, playing straight man. “OK then, listen. This is interesting.” Spivack proceeded with the tale, concluding with a triumphant return from Philadelphia to find the railroad company’s check for $93 million in the clutter of her office mail. “It was made out to me!” she said. Pause. “Being an honest woman … “ Bloomberg led a chorus of laughs. Despite a skill at litigation that would ultimately net the city millions more, Spivack had to prove herself as a rookie in 1934. Paul Windels, the corporation counsel at the time, agreed to try her out as an unsalaried volunteer. Luckily, Spivack had the financial backup of her husband, the late attorney Bernard Goldstein, Columbia Law class of 1930. Windels soon added Spivack to his payroll. Since then, she has worked in the Law Department’s Real Estate Tax Division, as attorney in charge of certiorari, the condemnation and commercial tax divisions, and finally as a supervisor. Working in what initially was a man’s world has been a bit of a trial for Spivack, but she learned to meet the challenges with aplomb. “Some men just felt that women didn’t belong in the profession,” she said of the early years.” Well, there are some people who are always opposed to something. If they can’t find somebody else, they’re against women. “I would take my hat off just as the men did, I would be very respectful. I tried to be a lawyer, not some woman taking advantage, assuming women had advantages. And after these initial steps, men accepted us. The judges accepted us.” She added: “To be fair, there were some men who never found it difficult. And as more and more women moved into the profession, the men found we didn’t upset anything.” After Bloomberg and Cardozo spoke at the sendoff — and after seven members of the Law Department received the newly named Edith Spivack Special Recognition Award — Spivack received a long line of admirers. Among them was a department lawyer who cracked wise, “Don’t you think there are too many women in the business, Edith? They’re taking all the jobs away from the men.” “Now, you know better than that,” she said. “The women are here to inspire you.” In retirement, Spivack plans to volunteer at her local public library in Port Washington, Long Island. She also will be able to spend more time with her several grandchildren, one of whom is planning a wedding.

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