William J. Rosenthal, a noted expert in labor and employment law who as a naval deck officer during World War II participated in the D-Day invasion, died March 12 of a hemorrhage at Northwest Hospital. He was 92.
"He was a physically imposing person, and when he walked into a room, you could not help but appreciate his presence," said Stephen D. Shawe, a partner in the firm of Shawe & Rosenthal LLP. "He instilled incredible confidence in clients who'd say, 'I've got a lawyer who knows what he is doing.'"
The son of a lawyer and a homemaker, William Jay Rosenthal was born in Baltimore and spent his early years on Ducatel Street before moving with his family to Egerton Road in Northwest Baltimore.
He attended City College and graduated in 1937 from Forest Park High School. He enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where he played varsity football and was a member of the track and field team, specializing in the shot-put, javelin and discus.
After graduating from Hopkins in 1941, Mr. Rosenthal tried to enlist in the military and was turned down by every branch of the service because of poor eyesight.
After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Rosenthal decided to try enlisting in the Navy again, and visited the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve on North Howard Street. There he found an old family friend working in the office who gave a glowing reference to a corpsman conducting a medical exam.
After being taken into an examining room, the corpsman told Mr. Rosenthal that it was time for his break and he'd return in half an hour.
"As he was leaving he said, 'You can wait for me here, but please do not memorize the eye chart.' I got the message at once, and no sooner had he left than I was working on committing the chart to memory," Mr. Rosenthal recalled in a family memoir, "The William Rosenthal and Bertha Fuld Stern Families in America 1832-2012."
Mr. Rosenthal passed the examination and was commissioned an ensign in the Navy. After completing training, he was assigned to the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington as a communications officer in the Navy's main code room in the Old Executive Office Building.
"During that assignment, he had occasion to interact with President Franklin Roosevelt, who often could not sleep because of his condition and would visit the communications room late at night to read cables and interact with the military personnel assigned there," said his son, John J. Rosenthal, a Washington anti-trust litigator.
In 1943, Mr. Rosenthal was sent to the Commander of Naval Operations in London, where he was assigned to Operation Neptune, the naval phase of the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
"There was tight secrecy about where the Allies were going to hit, but about a month before, I knew the plan of attack and the locations," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1996 interview. "But I didn't know the time. We all kept guessing. I was involved in two invasion exercises so I knew the immensity of the preparation."
On June 6, 1944, Mr. Rosenthal was aboard the HMS Ceres, a British light cruiser, where he was monitoring and deciphering incoming messages and enciphering outgoing transmissions.
Several days later, Mr. Rosenthal landed on Normandy and recalled going past a casualty station where he saw all helmets of Maryland's 29th Division in a pile.
"It's a memory I haven't forgotten," he told the newspaper.
Discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant, Mr. Rosenthal received decorations including the French Legion of Merit, which the French government awarded him in 2011.
"Like many veterans, his memories are filled with only the good stories and not many of the difficult ones that he reluctantly told me over the years," his son said.
Mr. Rosenthal worked with the Office of Price Administration in Washington while earning a law degree in 1950 from the University of Baltimore.
That year, he joined Earl K. Shawe to establish what turned out to be one of the first labor management practices in the country. In 1967, he became a partner in the firm that was renamed Shawe & Rosenthal LLP.
Mr. Rosenthal, who was nationally recognized in the field of labor and employment law, had a client base that included state and federal agencies, hotels, restaurants, casinos, transportation, warehousing, distribution, clothing manufacturing and retail, defense, printing and education.
In addition to his legal expertise, Mr. Rosenthal was known for a gifted and concise writing style and for wielding a blue pencil that spared no one.
"He was the person in the firm you went to. He believed in the fierce economy of the language when it came to writing letters or briefs," recalled Mr. Shawe. "He made you get to the point. He had the ability to make you convey in a letter or brief what you intended to say and not burden the reader, whether it was a client, lawyer or judge."
Mr. Rosenthal retired two weeks before his death.
The Stevenson resident was an avid golfer and member of the Suburban Club, where had had been president for two terms.
Services were March 15 at Sol Levinson & Bros.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Margaret Parker; two daughters, Adriane Rosenthal of Reisterstown and Jacqueline Rosenthal of Stevenson; and two grandchildren.