Tony Colleluori Taught me to Love Lawyers

The first time I ever met Tony, he interrupted and upbraided me in front of about 400 lawyers at a New York Bar Association event.

I just learned from Jeena Belil’s Facebook post that Tony died and I write this hoping that one day his sons might come across this post. I don’t write blog posts that often anymore, but some stories just belong written down.  I’m going to share two Tony stories – they day we met and the last day I ever saw him.

So back to that NY Bar Association event back in 2008… I was the only marketing dude for a little known (at the time) start up called Avvo.  Our CEO, Mark Britton and I were on a charm offensive, introducing the concept of Internet-As-Marketing-Channel to lawyers through appearances at Bar Associations around the country. I had a talk about this new thing called SEO and in one of the slides I talked about the importance of Name Search.  The example I sited was a lawyer named Ashley Dupree Russell whose Avvo profile exploded after the New York Times identified Ashley Dupre – the woman involved in the Eliot Spitzer scandal. My talk went something like this:

“…so, now you have traffic to this lawyer’s profile exploding, because her name is getting misidentified by Google as the hooker”

It was at this point that Tony stood up and castigated me in front of the audience:

“Stop!  Stop right now!  Don’t you ever call a woman a hooker.  That lady is someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s sister.  Don’t you ever dare disrespect a woman like that.”

I sheepishly stumbled through the rest of the talk; afterwards Tony approached me and Mark.  We ended up going out for lunch, along with Jeena and Andrea Cannavina, to a deli nearby and talked for hours about the web and lawyers. I remember asking him if there was anything we could do for him and he gave me a very sad answer: “You can’t do anything for me.  The only thing I really want is something no one can do.  Unless you have a cure for scleroderma.” It’s a horrible disease which his wife, Mary Rose was suffering from (and eventually succumbed to.) At the end of a long lunch, Tony offered to drive Mark and me to La Guardia in some oversized black American car. That day, in one instant, Tony taught me more about lawyers and the meaning of (many, but not all) lawyers and ultimately lead me to crafting the first of our Mockingbird’s 10 Commandments.

1. We Love Lawyers – Attorneys who represent individuals are the primary counterbalance to corporate malfeasance, the greedy insurance industry and the widespread abuse of police and political power. We are honored to play a small role in this system.

My second story is much more personal and fun.  Mockingbird’s VP of Ops, Robert Williams and I were headed to New York. Rob had never been east of the Mississippi and I wanted to give him the ultimate New York experience so I told Tony I’d be in town and I wanted to go out for an Italian meal.  We met Tony (and Andrea again) at some ridiculously Italian restaurant – our waiter was a heavily accented dude named Michaelangelo. Tony showed up late and took another 20 minutes to get to the back of the restaurant where we were seated b/c he had to stop and talk with half of the people in there. We quaffed overpriced wine and devoured plate after plate of impossibly good Italian food. After dinner, as we were leaving, the proprietor insisted on getting picture of us – we were joined by some lady who I believe was the owner’s wife and I have hopes that there’s a pic of Rob, Conrad, Andrea, Tony and this lady sitting on the wall in some amazing Italian restaurant. Many diners recognize Tony, but have no idea who the two Seattleites are. Tony regaled Rob and me with stories over lawyering and those times he took off his JD in pursuit of Justice. We talked about parenting and his boys who he adored and of course his wife, who I never got to meet. It’s around 11:30 and Tony insisted on taking Rob and me for a tour of Manhattan – b/c back in the day, he used to drive a cab and cabbies used to get paid to take tourists around on an unofficial tour.  So we piled into his oversized black Lincoln or Caddy and Tony narrated a tour of the city for Rob. We’re uptown when it hits Tony that the only way to finish the night is to have a pastrami sandwich and this downtown, famous 24 hour Jewish deli.  Now, I’ve just finished about half my weight in linguine vongole as we hurtle through Manhattan on a suspension that clearly needs to be replaced and I’m trying to imagine downing a pastrami sandwich, but Tony insists. We finally arrive and thank Yahweh it was some Jewish holiday and they were closed.

The picture accompanying this post is from that day in 2008 and thanks to Jeena for sharing it. Tony was New York the way you wanted New York to be… Italian, gruff, connected, bombastic yet entirely welcoming.  NYC is a little less NYC than it was last week.

One Response to “Tony Colleluori Taught me to Love Lawyers”

  1. Robert Williams

    RIP Tony. The dinner and tour of NYC was such a special memory that you both gave to me. I take every chance I get to share it. Thanks for memorializing it here, Conrad.