James L. Muller, Esq.
James Lee Muller passed away on September 28, 2021 of pancreatic cancer and its complications. He was 90 years old.
Jim was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on March 3, 1931, to Alice and Felix Muller. Not quite two years old in January of 1933 when the Nazis took power, Jim could not have been aware of what this meant for his happy family. By the time he was seven, , there was no mistaking it.
On the night that would become known as Kristallnacht, he watched his synagogue burn, went to bed, and was awakened by the pounding of the Gestapo on the door for his father. Soon after, Jim himself was chased through a city park by a noose-wielding gang of teenaged Hitler Youth. Only by the intervention of a kindly umbrella-wielding old man was he saved.
After his father’s release from Buchenwald, the family escaped into Switzerland in the final days of 1938, where they spent more than two years searching for a country that would take them. That country turned out to be the United States. Jim’s family sailed past the Statue of Liberty on April 1, 1941, soon settling on a chicken farm in Atco, New Jersey. Jim spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years balancing schoolwork and the never-ending demands of raising chickens.
Jim attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and then law school at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1956. While at a favorite West Philadelphia restaurant during his law school years, his attention was drawn to another regular customer, a bright, pretty undergraduate named Joan Dickman. It wasn’t until she saw him at a Jewish Community Center dance in Camden that she realized this not-very-Jewish-looking young man with the not-very-Jewish-sounding last name was, in fact, Jewish, and therefore dating material. They began to see each other and were married in June of 1957. Two sons, first David and then Eric, came along within the first five years of their marriage.
Jim practiced law in Camden, Haddonfield, and Cherry Hill for some sixty years, first with several firms, including two he founded, and then starting in the 1980s as a solo practitioner until his retirement at the age of 85. He developed deep expertise in commercial law, bankruptcy, and real estate, and enjoyed finding creative ways not just to help clients solve their legal problems but also to help their businesses grow and thrive. He was a stalwart of the Camden County bar, respected across the decades for his intellect and his professionalism. His sons always took pleasure in drives around town when he would off-handedly point out this restaurant, this hardware store, or that dry cleaners that he either had helped launch or had brought through hard times to better ones. The community was much richer for his membership in it.
Jim and Joan loved to travel. They had adventures around the globe, negotiating for crafts and wares in far-flung markets, touring North America’s most beautiful parks, and cruising waters from the Gulf of Alaska to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Even after the tragedy of losing Joan far too soon in 2008 at the age of 73, Jim continued their shared hobby, always looking forward to seeing some part of the earth he hadn’t yet reached or returning to some especially loved destination.
A life that began with years of persecution and loss might not be expected to turn into one of great generosity. Jim’s did. Whether working to help an Auschwitz survivor obtain reparations without charging a penny, or devoting hundreds of volunteer hours to send 200 Cherry Hill High School East band students on an adventure to France and Switzerland they’d never forget, or making a bridge “loan” to a needy person with no intention of ever seeking repayment, Jim took no greater joy than in helping others meet their needs and reach their goals. Knowing that he had helped was all the thanks he ever wanted.
In addition to his wife Joan, Jim’s parents Alice and Felix Muller and sister Beatrice Radetsky preceded him in death. He is survived by his sons and daughters-in-law, David and Diana Muller of Weston, CT, and Eric Muller and Leslie Branden-Muller of Chapel Hill, NC, by his nieces Martha Radetsky and Ruth Radetsky (Edward Hasbrouck), and by his five grandchildren, Abby, Daniel, Julia, Nina, and Benjamin. Words cannot capture the pride he took in their accomplishments or the joy he derived from their uniqueness.
Jim loved to tease, and he loved the intricacies of language. Often those two loves came together—endearingly, even if at times maddeningly. Jim did not believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, and heaven’s gatekeeper asks, “So, Jim, no regrets?” he’ll smile and say “yes,” enjoying the moment of grammatical confusion before the gates open to let him in.