David B. Tilove
April 27, 1941 - January 2, 2024

In late January 1973, The Daily Intelligencer of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, ran a story about David B. Tilove being named the new director of the Bucks County Legal Aid Society. In his first interview since his promotion, just before Christmas, from staff attorney to director, Tilove pledged to follow in the crusading spirit of his predecessor, Larry W. Post.

“If the main emphasis is on individual services, you’re fighting a losing battle; we’re going to concentrate on the whole area of legal reform,” the bearded attorney said in his threadbare office in the small headquarters of Legal Aid on East State Street in Doylestown. “You can’t be doing the right kind of job here without making people angry,” he said. “The whole idea is changing the status quo.”

The story was accompanied by a photo of Tilove, then 31, captioned, “Protector of the Poor.”

It is not a title that Tilove would ever have applied to himself. Any form of self-aggrandizement or moral preening was foreign to his nature. But for the next four decades, Tilove, with his consecutive leadership of the Bucks County Legal Aid Society, Lehigh Valley Legal Services and North Penn Legal Services, made sure that, every year, many thousands of Pennsylvanians of little means received capable civil legal services at no cost, enabling them to lead safer, more secure and decent lives — to get paid for the work they did and receive the benefits to which they were entitled, to be able to secure divorces and end abusive marriages, to maintain custody of their children, to be safe from illegal evictions and gouging rent increases.

He retired when he was 70.

During his working life, Tilove lived in Doylestown and Hulmeville. He had two sons with his first wife, Ann Gundersheimer. After their divorce and his marriage to Carolyn Jacobson, he had two more sons. Five years ago, the Tiloves moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to their two sons.

On Tuesday, January 2, Tilove died at home in Forest Hills. On Sunday, he was buried at the Workmen’s Circle Cemetery on Wible Run Road.

“He was the least hurtful to other people of almost anybody that I know,” his wife, Carolyn, said at the graveside service. “He went out of his way, but he didn’t even have to try. He had a heart that touched the other person’s heart. He was deeply kind and deeply tender and I’m going to miss him a lot.”

David Backer Tilove was born on April 27, 1941, in the Bronx, New York, to Robert and Martha Tilove. The children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Tilove’s parents came of age in the Young People’s Socialist League and imparted to him their humane values. David was the first child in their large, lifelong circle of friends, an object of much love and attention.

As a young child, the family moved to Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, where his father worked for the War Labor Board. A few years later, they moved to New York’s Long Island. Tilove graduated from Baldwin High School in 1958. He went to Antioch College, graduating in 1963 with a degree in mathematics. After graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and entered Officer Candidate School. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Enterprise, a nuclear-power aircraft carrier. In 1965 he was promoted to lieutenant, junior grade. Later that year, the Enterprise was deployed to Vietnam.

“It was apparently a very painful experience for him because he's told us practically nothing about it,” his father recalled at a surprise 50th birthday party for David in Bucks County. “He got a couple of medals but thinks nothing of it. I don’t blame him for that. It’s a testimonial to the kind of person he is.”

In early 1967, Tilove was honorably discharged. That fall he entered the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.

During his first year of law school, in April 1968, Tilove and classmate Ellen Mosen were two of 49 people arrested for protesting the recommissioning the Battleship New Jersey at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius told the crowd of 6,000 invited guests that the battleship’s new mission was to bombard Vietnam, “not to widen the war, but to bring it to a successful conclusion.’

Their protest had run afoul of Philadelphia Mayor James H.J. Tate’s state of emergency declaration in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King two days earlier, prohibiting outdoor gatherings of a dozen or more people for anything other than recreation, waiting for transportation or entering or leaving buildings.

Tilove and Mosen reported back to their Criminal Law class on their experience. Harry Toland, a member of the editorial page staff of The (Philadelphia) Bulletin (once the largest-circulation afternoon paper in the country, it ceased publication in 1982) was there and he wrote about it.

“It was faintly reminiscent of kids getting up in class to tell what they did on summer vacation.” Toland began his report. “Except that in this case, it was a couple of University of Pennsylvania Law School students explaining to their class in Criminal Law what had happened to them after they got arrested last month.”

The protest suited Tilove’s temperament.

“The demonstrators planted a tree in the park,” Toland recounted. “Then, while a detective from Lt. George Fencl’s Civil Disobedience Squad read the proclamation aloud, they sat in a circle around the tree and sang `We Shall Overcome.’”

Tilove told the class that while the arrest was well-handled by police, when they were taken to lockup to be questioned, finger-printed, photographed and arraigned, the police “seemed to be looking for an excuse to get rough.”

With his near-perfect LSAT scores and Ivy League law school education, Tilove might have been expected, like many other new lawyers, to scratch his itch for altruism by devoting a few years to “poverty law” before moving on to a more financially rewarding career.

Instead, it was his life’s work.

“The lawyers who work for Bucks County Legal Aid Society rarely enjoy the plums usually associated with their profession,” Hal Marcovitz wrote in a column in The (Allentown) Morning Call in June 1987. “They don’t get their names on fancy office stationery, they don’t get to make dramatic arguments to juries and they never get the type of cases that promise million dollar judgments and fat retainers. No, representing poor people in landlord-tenant disputes or winning protection-from-abuse orders for battered women is hardly the type of work that takes a three-piece suit or a leather briefcase.”

Marcovitz had come to interview Tilove after an arson fire destroyed the Bucks County Legal Aid Society’s main office, which was then in Bristol. Tilove, down but undaunted, was sifting through rubble and ashes of the blaze that destroyed nearly $200,000 in furniture and office equipment and more than 25,000 case and client files.

Five years later, in February, 1992, Tilove was featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer story on the perilous state of legal aid services in the area.

“Acting as the legal profession’s equivalent of a hospital emergency room is a tough way to practice law,” Tilove told The Inquirer.

“In Bucks County, Tilove’s staff has shrunk over the last decade from eight lawyers to six, and from five paralegals to three. He is running a deficit this year and may face staff layoffs in June. The county, meanwhile, is about to sell the building that houses his satellite office in Doylestown.

“We’ll never catch up,” he said.

And yet Tilove’s program is viewed by his peers as a model of success. Despite hard times, Bucks County Legal Aid has managed to double its caseload in the last three years.That is largely because Bucks has been wildly successful in recruiting private lawyers to do volunteer, or pro bono, work for legal aid clients. Close to 90 percent of the Bucks County Bar Association’s roughly 700 members donate some pro bono work to legal aid clients.

In his quiet way, by his steadfast example, Tilove was hard to resist, difficult to deny.

He was a man of few words, but had a deep emotional and intellectual life that defied easy categorization,” his son, Gabe, of Pittsburgh, wrote in a Facebook post after his father’s death. “He was gentle and funny and curious about the world with a spirit unburdened by cynicism. He had sweet blue eyes and a quiet charm to match.

Music could bring him to tears and he spent much of his free time in the garden. He liked to immerse himself in projects — at 70 he began English country dancing with my mother, and quickly built a comprehensive, nationally-recognized website housing an authoritative video library on the subject.

“His later years were challenged with dementia, but even as his words faded he never lost his comedic timing or appreciation for beauty and maintained his dignity and sweetness right to the very end.”

His English country dance website included tips on etiquette for newcomers. Among the tips:

When we turn another dancer with one or both hands we use enough mutual resistance to achieve a balanced tension ("giving weight"), so that the timing and direction of the turn is satisfying.

Experienced dancers will also give you cues by their body language, so it is important to keep looking at your fellow dancers, especially your partner.

Those helping should never grab, push, or pull other dancers in the set. Hold out the appropriate hand, use eye contact, or just use a gesture or a quiet word to help others out.

At his 50th birthday party, his eldest son, Adam, sent a letter warmly remembering the way his father would alternately rub and pat his back to comfort him. When the time came for him to speak, David said, “I have exactly those memories of (his father) Bob patting my back and rubbing my back. It’s amazing that it’s transmitted, without any articulation.”

On New Year’s Eve, two days before his death, Tilove, who could no longer speak in an understandable way, patted the space next to him on his bed in the living room of his home, summoning first one and then another son who were present to lie down beside him. Then, each in turn, Tilove, his hands still strong, rubbed and patted his sons’ backs to comfort them.

Tilove leaves his wife, Carolyn, four sons — Adam of Overland Park Kansas, Jacob of Jackson Heights, Queens, and Gabe and Micah of Pittsburgh; six grandchildren — Naftali, Raviv, Yakir, Frieda, Orren and August, a sister, Ellen Walker, and brother, Jonathan, both of Washington, D.C. 

Graveside Services and Interment were held at Workman's Circle Cemetery, Branch #45. Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel Inc. www.schugar.com 


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David took a leadership role when the Legal Services Corporation, in a misguided attempt to consolidate programs to reduce costs, required programs like mine (Susquehanna) to merge into larger entities. Before that, I had become acquainted with David, if memory serves, to consult with him on a case of mine for which he had more extensive experience. He took a pragmatic leadership role in that eventual merger of 4 programs with multiple offices in northeastern PA into North Penn Legal Services, and he retired not too long after that, well before I did at the end of 2016. I am pleasantly surprised to learn some of his gallant history heretofore unknown to me, and I am saddened to learn of his passing, He was one of the good ones. Condolences to family and friends.

By Joe DeCristopoher - January 17, 2024

While Carolyn and David still lived in Philadelphia area, they would travel to Pittsburgh because Carolyn was conducting a Pathwork Transformation Program. I was an apprentice. They invited me to ride with them to Pittsburgh. David drove, Carolyn sat in the back seat - claiming it gave her more room and I was in the front passenger side. David was welcoming and genuine. We spoke of many things some simple everyday things and some that took you deeper. So, 10 hours once a month of traveling with these two people: Carolyn who changed my life and David who accepted me, laughed with Carolyn and me and was there to support us. These are treasured memories and I am grateful I had the opportunity to get to know this gentle man.

By Donna B Neilson - January 12, 2024

Dearest Carolyn, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. You came to mind just a few days ago, and I wondered if you were leaving us....it was quite a thought and feeling, but I could find no way to account for the sudden thought of you. Now I realize it was because of David's passing. I didn't know half of what I just read about your wonderful and loving husband. Godspeed on his journey, and you on yours. Many blessings I send...warmly, Carol (Day Salisbury)

By Carol L Day - January 12, 2024

May David\'s memory be a blessing. I will fondly remember my time working with David at North Penn Legal Services.

By Jennifer Ayers - January 12, 2024

I knew him very briefly. He was so kind and generous. I'm sorry that light is out.

By Nadya Beck - January 12, 2024