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Nancy Peck: Pioneer attorney

Nancy Peck

One of the things people remember most about Nancy Dillman Peck is her laugh.

In fact, she was proud of the fact that it cost her a job early in her career as a lawyer.

“I know that one of her earlier jobs was with one of the larger conservative firms and that didn’t last because they said she laughed too loudly and too boisterously, that when she laughed, it echoed down the hall and it didn’t fit in with the atmosphere there,” said Eric Metzler, a fellow attorney with ChamberlainD’Amanda. “She was so proud of the fact that she didn’t fit there. It tickled her. She didn’t have any resentment. She just thought it was good that they found out early.”

Peck, who died Thursday, Sept. 2, following a lengthy battle with cancer, was able to find many people who appreciated her laughter, as well as her skill as a lawyer.

A graduate of the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo Law School, Peck formed a partnership in 1985 with Lewis J. Gould after the two had worked together on a major case.

“When we first started, Nancy inquired as to whether or not I had any problems with having a female partner,” Gould said. “I said, ‘I don’t look at gender. I look at good lawyering.’”

They remained a team ever since, joined later by Metzler, Suzanne L. Cognata and Matthew J. Mix. Earlier this year, they merged Gould, Peck, Metzler & Cognata LLP, with ChamberlainD’Amanda, joining its Family Law Practice Group.

“We were talking at one point in time and she said, ‘I could just imagine you making remarks at my funeral and saying, if she had lived long enough, she would have made a good lawyer,” Gould said, noting he made sure he told her she was a good lawyer.

“She didn’t live long enough,” he added. “We became very good friends, an addition to partners. We just used to have a lot of laughs. She reminded me, when she laughed, of Phyllis Diller. She had a really hearty, jovial laugh.”

Gould said Peck was always positive, even after she became aware of her illness in early 2009.

“Very seldom was Nancy down,” he said. “I was very fond of Nancy. I held her in great esteem.”

Cognata met Peck in 1995. Shortly after she joined the firm, she sat second chair in her first jury trial with Peck whom she called a tremendous mentor.

“I can remember her telling stories about how difficult it was for female attorneys in Rochester, how she was one of the first premiere matrimonial female attorneys and how difficult it had been through the years for her in a male-dominated profession,” Cognata said. “That was always something I kept near and dear to my heart. I thought how she and some of the other women in her field really were groundbreakers in this area. Overall, to me, Nancy was just a shining example of wisdom, beauty and grace under fire.”

Peck was a native of St. Louis, Mo., raised not too far from the home of President Harry S. Truman who was a friend of her parents.

“She told stories of St. Louis Cardinals’ games and of Harry Truman stopping by the house for visits when she was young,” said Metzler who met Peck when he was being interviewed for an associate position with Gould & Peck nearly 20 years ago.

“My first impression is the she just projected strength, grace and class,” Metzler said. “Everybody who has met her or dealt with her personally or professionally shares that. I hear those things from people quite often. She was a very warm person. She was incredibly knowledgeable as an attorney. I learned a lot working for and with her.”

Peck was very active in the legal community, serving as president of the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys in 1985-86; president of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Association in 1990-91; and as a delegate of the American Bar Association.

She also was admitted to the California Bar where she and her husband, Robert A. Feldman, an attorney with Ward Greenberg Heller & Reidy LLP, bought a house a couple of years ago. They enjoyed spending time there in the winter. The rest of the year, they lived in Canandaigua.

The law was actually Peck’s second career. Before becoming a lawyer in 1979, she worked for 20 years in the medical field, serving as a surgical technician and hospital administrator in her home state.

It wasn’t until she was 40 that she decided to study law, soon finding out that she wasn’t the only middle-aged woman commuting to Buffalo either.

Retired Family Court Judge Marilyn O’Connor was also starting a late career in law and met Peck at law school.

Word was out that there were two women from Rochester attending classes. Judge O’Connor said people would come up to her and ask if she was Nancy Peck and they would ask Peck is she was Marilyn Hoffman, her name at the time.

“The two of us heard this so much so we had to track each other down,” Judge O’Connor said. “Nancy was this tall really gorgeous-looking woman and I was short and I would say I’ll take being her.

“She was really a very good friend. She was classy and smart and I loved having her for my friend.”

Peck also loved dancing and the arts. She had been a dancer since childhood and joined Garth Fagan Dance, later chairing its board.

“She was a brilliant chair,” said Garth Fagan. “She was at the top of her game.”

He said as a lawyer, Peck also understood the aspects of a not-for-profit organization and was a major supporter.

“Both her and Bob had wonderful fundraising parties for the company,” Fagan said. “She was always an articulate, insightful, inquisitive supporter who was just thrilled with the dances she loved, the dancers and the entire process. Nancy was just big big time in moving us forward and keeping us afloat.”

He laughed when he recalled Peck dancing around with a bucket of paint, decorating walls for a company gala.

Besides her husband, Peck is survived by three children: Catherine (Brent) Peck Nelson, Edward and David (Ray Kelly) Peck; a granddaughter, Jackie; four stepchildren, Michael (Norma), Jonathan (Jill), Tim (Andrea) and Margaret Feldman; three sisters: Judith Humes and Cynthia Todorovich of St. Louis and Judy Berry of Jackson, Miss. She was also Nana to five stepgranddaughters: Jayme, Alex, Sarah, Kathryn and Molly; and four stepgrandsons: Joseph, Gabe, Jason and Henry.

A memorial service will be conducted at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 at the University of Rochester’s Interfaith Chapel, 500 Wilson Blvd.

Memorial donations may be made to the URMC Palliative Care Program, 300 E. River Road, P.O. Box 270032, Rochester NY 14627.

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