Oliver Caldwell Biddle, 96, formerly of Chestnut Hill, a lawyer, author, and member of a prominent Philadelphia family whose roots extend back to the time of William Penn, died Wednesday, March 21, of complications from Parkinson's disease at the Hill at Whitemarsh.
Mr. Biddle had a long career as a civil and criminal trial lawyer, first at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, and then at Ballard Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, where he served for many years as partner and chairman of the law firm's litigation department. Later in life, he turned to writing, self-publishing a three-volume fictional narrative based on three generations of his family.
Mr. Biddle was a direct descendant of William and Sarah Biddle, early Quaker settlers who came to America in 1682, along with William Penn. They sought to escape religious persecution in England.
Mr. Biddle's great-grandfather was George Washington Biddle, a respected Philadelphia attorney for whom the law library at the University of Pennsylvania is named. His three sons included Oliver's grandfather, Algernon Sydney Biddle.
Algernon Sydney Biddle had four sons: Dr. Sydney Geoffrey, who was Mr. Biddle's father; Francis Biddle, attorney general in the Roosevelt administration and primary U.S. judge at the Nuremberg trials; George Biddle, a muralist who cofounded the Federal Art Program under the WPA; and Moncure Biddle, an investment banker and collector whose Greek and Latin manuscripts now reside in the rare books department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Mr. Biddle was born in 1921 in Belmont Mass. His father was a prominent early psychoanalyst, who studied under Anna Freud in Vienna and then cofounded the Philadelphia Psychoanalytic Institute. His mother, Olive Caldwell, was psychoanalyzed by Carl Jung and Anna Freud.
Mr. Biddle graduated from Milton Academy and Harvard College, where he was a member of the Navy ROTC. In college, he rowed on an undefeated lightweight varsity crew team. He graduated in three years and was deployed to destroyer patrol duty in the South Atlantic and then in the South Pacific.
After the war, Mr. Biddle pursued a career in law, graduating from Columbia Law School. He clerked for U.S. Third Circuit Court Judge William Hastie, a civil rights leader who at his confirmation by the Senate in 1950 was the highest-ranking African American judicial figure in the country.
Mr. Biddle served for two years as a litigator for the U.S. Department of Justice and in the same role with Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York before moving to Philadelphia in the 1960s to join Ballard Spahr.
A standout athlete in tennis, wrestling, and crew, Mr. Biddle could also ice skate. He met his wife, Mary Van Sciver Anthony, while ice dancing at the Wissahickon Skating Club. Both were members there.
In 1968, the two married and raised a family in Chestnut Hill. They also cultivated an award-winning garden that they opened to the public for charity and horticultural tours and reared a series of Jack Russell terriers.
In 2006, Mr. Biddle and his wife moved to the Hill at Whitemarsh.
In retirement, Mr. Biddle began writing, self-publishing a three-volume family story mixing actual family records with fiction.
"He was retired for a long time," said his son Geoffrey. "He was extremely disciplined in whatever he took on, whether it was his writing, or the CDs he made of music that he listened to when he was young.
"The books he wrote were about family. There was something elusive about family for him. It's just interesting to me that he focused so emphatically on family in his writing after he retired – trying to nail that down."
Mr. Biddle wrote a memoir reflecting on his war experience, a book about the Biddle legacy based on accounts of notable family members, and several fictional books based on his knowledge of the law and of the psychoanalytical world he had experienced through his parents.
"He loved to write," said his daughter Christine Biddle. "He was extremely interesting and gave wonderful talks about the war. He went above and beyond to make the talks appealing to people."
Mr. Biddle was a member of the Philadelphia Club and a life member of the Philadelphia Cricket Club. "Dad was very accomplished in a lot of things," his son said. "He played tennis until he was 90."
A flautist, Mr. Biddle loved making compilations of classical and jazz recordings, his son and daughter said. At the time of his death, he was listening to one such compilation of the work of jazz saxophonist Johnny Hodges.
As a young man, Mr. Biddle was married and divorced three times, His first wife, Katharine Mortimer Blaine, died in 2003. His second wife, Anne Biddle, died in 2006. His third wife, Barbara Kerstein, survives.
In addition to his wife, Mary, and daughter Christine, he is survived by children Julia, Geoffrey, Olivia, Claudia, and Vanessa; stepchildren Theresa Crowley and Tate Anthony; seven grandchildren; four step-grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a half-brother, Christopher Stark Biddle. Two brothers died earlier.