Obituary of Joseph Lefkoff
This week we said goodbye to our favorite Southern Jew in the Mountain West and most subtly voracious eater of life, Joe Lefkoff. Joe loved people and things so fiercely and yet so quietly: he loved a fluffy matzah ball, Moe’s BBQ, and spending hours moving between the hot tub and the swimming pool reading and sunning. He loved John Le Carre, Stephen Sondheim, Scrabble, and a well-crafted dirty joke. He loved grilling the perfect steak, going to New York and London every year to see the new theater, and chasing a royal straight flush on poker nights with his favorite guys.
But the two loves of his life, above all, were his family and being a lawyer. Born and raised in Atlanta, Joe attended Grady High School, went to Emory University, and graduated from Emory Law School, entering the Georgia Bar in 1957. As a young Jewish lawyer establishing himself in the volatile 1960’s South, Joe rose to the challenge of practicing law during some of the most consequential times of the 20th century.
In the civil rights era, examples of Joe’s defense of justice for Black people in the South are now legendary. He was part of the legal team that quietly negotiated Dr. Martin Luther King’s release from an Atlanta jail in 1960. In 1963, in one of his first litigations, he and his law partners argued Grey vs. Sanders before the Supreme Court, and in an 8-1 decision ended the county unit voting system in Georgia as a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Joe then helped broker the deal during the Georgia delegate challenge at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which de-segregated the delegation and changed party politics in Georgia forever.
As his law practice flourished in the 1970s and 80s, Joe established himself as a gifted generalist, equally comfortable litigating multi-national commercial disputes and navigating complex tax transactions. His clients were restauranteurs, second-mortgage lenders, family farms. They all came to rely on Joe’s insight, honesty, and ethics, as well as his unmatched ability to make complicated stuff simple. He became their most trusted advisor in all matters, professional and personal. His profound humility about his gifts made him a quiet mentor to several generations of Atlanta lawyers, who learned from him that nothing is more important than your name and reputation. The firm he established more than 40 years ago in Atlanta still bears his name. When asked by a caregiver recently what kind of lawyer he was, Joe responded, “a really good one.”
As much as he loved his profession, he loved his family even more. The favorite son of a large East Coast clan, Joe grew up with his brother Morton in a close-knit gang of aunts, uncles, and cousins in Atlanta and Baltimore. Raising four children with his first wife, Merle, he continued to show this devotion to family, loving and supporting us throughout our lives with his sharp wit, keen wisdom, and unconditional love. He helped us roam far and wide as we pursued our adventures and always welcomed us home eagerly. He loved to argue, but not fight; to offer judgement but not push; to advise but not dictate.
When grandchildren came along, Joe’s familial devotion blossomed even further. After moving to Boulder from Atlanta in 2008, he could be found every Sunday morning in his kitchen making perfect eggs for family brunch. He reveled in his grandchildren’s accomplishments, no matter how small, and educated himself about pinball (and how to watch it on Twitch), the Denver Broncos, children with PTSD, skiing, chickens, robotics, and digital photography so he could be an active participant in their passions as they grew. His legacy of how to love well lives on in them.
He was our most ardent advocate and trusted counsel and he will be missed and mourned and celebrated every day by his beloved wife of 40 years, Sherrie; his children Kyle, Shari, Lynn, and Adam; his grandchildren, stepfamily, cousins, friends, and colleagues. Enjoy that big swimming pool, Dad – no need to put on sunscreen anymore. Thanks for teaching us how to swim.