Former Woodstock mayor, school board member and prominent attorney H. Joseph Gitlin died Dec. 2 at the age of 84.
Gitlin served as mayor of Woodstock from 1973 to 1977 and played a vital role in the restoration of the Opera House during the mid-1970s. He also served on the Woodstock School District 200 Board of Education and was board chair of First United Methodist Church.
Gitlin was born in 1932 in Poland to the Reverend M. H. and Clara Gitlin, who served as Baptist missionaries. When he was 7, his family moved to the United States.
Gitlin began practicing law in Woodstock in 1959, specializing in family law, and went on to author many publications including “Gitlin on Divorce: A Guide to Illinois Matrimonial Law.” For the American Bar Association, he founded and served as chair of the surrogacy committee, as well as the genetics and human reproduction committee. He also served as chair of the adoption committee. His law career included national recognition as one of the top 43 divorce lawyers in the country by the National Law Journal.
Paulette Gitlin reflected on the loss of her husband, citing his character.
“He was so kind. He had great friends, and people really loved and respected him,” she said. “I think in life, you don’t have to be well-known, but as long as people love and respect you, that’s important.”
Paulette Gitlin said her husband was a lifelong learner who always was filled with gratitude. He especially loved to read, and his passion for knowledge fueled his success as an attorney. He was known for telling jokes to lighten the mood, and he had an affinity for all things related to Abraham Lincoln.
His two children followed in their father’s footsteps. His daughter, Laura Gitlin-Petlak, practiced family law in California before she passed away in 2007. His son, Gunnar Gitlin, practices family law at The Gitlin Law Firm in Woodstock.
Retired attorney Jim Hecht knew Gitlin throughout his entire career in law. The two were partners together in the 1970s and remained friends the rest of their lives.
“Perhaps Joe was at his best when wearing his teaching and mentoring hats. He advised, consulted, pointed out, guided, exemplified, suggested, wrote, and lectured, whether in a formal setting or casual conversation,” Hecht commented. “Joe engaged life to the fullest. Whether in the likes of a law office or a family room, a court room or concert hall, he was a doer for the common good.”