Senior United States District Judge William J. Nealon, Scranton, passed away Thursday at home surrounded by his family. His wife of 70 years is the former Jean Sullivan.
Born in Scranton, he was the son of the late William “Terry” Nealon and Ann McNally Nealon. He was a graduate of Scranton Central High School and attended Miami University in Florida before enlisting and serving in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 to 1945 and attaining the rank of First Lieutenant. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Villanova University where he was a member of the varsity basketball team. He received his law degree from Catholic University and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1951.
He was appointed by Governor David Lawrence to the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on January 5, 1960 and, at the time of his appointment, he was the youngest Common Pleas Judge in the state. After he secured the endorsements and nominations of the Democratic and Republican parties, he was elected to a full 10 year term in 1961. On December 15, 1962, he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and was the youngest federal judge in the country at the time. He served as Chief Judge of the Middle District Court from 1976 to 1989 before assuming Senior Judge status in January 1989. On August 28, 2018, he became the longest serving United States District Court Judge in the history of the country.
Judge Nealon was very active in the community and served as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Scranton, Chair of the Board of Directors of Mercy Hospital, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Youth Center, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of Lackawanna Junior College, and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Everhart Museum and St. Michael’s School for Boys. He was President of the Friendly Sons of Lackawanna County in 1964-1965, and his St. Patrick’s Day Dinner featured Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as the principal speaker in one of his first public speaking appearances following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He served as a member of the Judicial Council of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and was also appointed to a six-year term as the Third Circuit Representative to the Committee on the Administration of the Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States. In 1996, President William Clinton and the U.S. Congress renamed the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton in his honor. The Public Broadcasting Service television station, WVIA-TV, produced and presented a documentary on Judge Nealon in 2008.
He received numerous awards in recognition of his public and community service, including the Americanism Award of Amos Lodge, B’nai B’rith (1975), Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, University of Scranton (1975), Cyrano Award, University of Scranton Graduate School (1977), Distinguished Judicial Service Award, Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association (1979), Distinguished Pennsylvanian, William Penn Committee of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (1980), Outstanding Federal Trial Judge in the United States Award, Association of Trial Lawyers of America (1983), Chief Justice Michael J. Eagen Award, Lackawanna Bar Association (1987), Judicial Service Award, Pennsylvania Defense Institute (1989), Distinguished Service Award, Boy Scouts of America (1989), Excellence in Governance Leadership Award, Catholic Health Partners (1995), Champion of Youth Award, Boys & Girls Club of Scranton (1995), Ignatian Award, Scranton Preparatory School (1996), Wall of Honor Award, Scranton Catholic Youth Center (1997), Presidential Medal, Marywood University (1998), Presidents Award, Friendly Sons of St. Patrick (2008), Medallion of Service Award, U.S. Department of Justice (2010), Professionalism Award, American Inns of Court (2011), and the Alpha Sigma Nu Award, University of Scranton Jesuit Honor Society (2012).
Also surviving are three sons, William J. Nealon Jr. and wife, Nancy, Bryn Mawr; Lackawanna County Judge Terrence Nealon and wife, Lisa, Dunmore; and Atty. Thomas Nealon and wife, Linda, Newton; two daughters, Jeanne Loftus and husband, Donald, Dunmore; Kathleen Helbig and husband, Atty. Thomas, Clarks Green; a sister, Nancy Malone, Scranton; 30 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by two daughters, Ann Nealon Farrell and Patricia Nealon Graybill; three sons, Dr. Robert L. Nealon and his wife, Teresa Fedele Nealon; Timothy Nealon, and John P. Nealon; and two brothers, Robert and John.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Friday at 10am in the Nativity of Our Lord Church, 633 Orchard St., Scranton, by Judge Nealon’s former law clerk, Monsignor Joseph G. Quinn.
All attending the Mass are asked to go directly to the church.
Friends may call Thursday from 3-7pm in the William J. Nealon Federal Building and United States Courthouse 235 N. Washington Ave. Scranton. Those attending are asked to enter through the Linden Street entrance.
Interment, Cathedral Cemetery.
Due to GSA regulations, the delivery of flowers is prohibited at the William J. Nealon Federal Building and United States Courthouse. Memorial contributions may be made to Scranton Preparatory School, 1000 Wyoming Avenue, Scranton, or a charity of the donor’s choice.