For as long
as he can remember, John D. Birchby, Esq. ’73L wanted to go to St.
John’s University. The son of alumnus Kenneth L. Birchby, Esq.
’49L,’88HON, John recognized early in life the significance of
strong family ties. He acknowledges that his father served as a
powerful role model, ultimately influencing him to continue the
Birchby legacy of entering the legal profession after graduating
from St. John’s School of Law.
“My dad was an unusual man - a fantastic father, a fantastic
businessman, and he was my best friend and my guiding light. I
remember when I was a little kid I asked my father what he did and
where he went to school, and I remember my father saying he went to
St. John’s. It was the first time I had ever heard of St. John’s,
and once I found out what my father did and where he went to
school, in the back of my head that’s what I wanted to do. I
remember as a kid following St. John’s in basketball, and it was
because my dad went to St. John’s. And I was very lucky to be able
to go there myself. It’s been a life-changing experience for
John has enjoyed a long and successful career as a private
practice attorney, and is proud that he “…developed a practice that
was all my own, built with my own blood, sweat and tears.”
His professional specialization is focused in the areas of real
estate, bankruptcy and estate work. He enjoys the personal
interactions that are such an important aspect of a small legal
practice, as compared with the sense of anonymity that frequently
characterizes a larger firm. “I always say it’s like being the old
country doctor, where you’re giving personal help to individual
clients. They’re coming to you because of who you are and what you
can provide for them, and that’s a huge difference from being a
corporate attorney. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Being a partner in a small firm also offers an opportunity to
reach out to others in personal and practical ways.
years, John has hired a lot of family members, including our four
boys and a niece, to work there for the summers during college,”
noted his wife, Mary Beth. “A daughter of one of our good friends
just finished law school, and she tells everyone that she went
because she wanted to be like Mr. Birchby. That’s the kind of role
model that John has always been.”
Despite his many accomplishments, what matters most happens at
the end of his busy day, when he unwinds and shares in the love of
the people who have always meant the most to him.
“The most important thing to me is really Mary Beth and our four
boys,” he said. “I’ve been at my law firm in Paramus, New Jersey
since 1975, and it’s been a joy. I’ve really enjoyed working there
all these years. But the love of my life is Mary Beth and my kids.
Our firm is located six miles away from home, which enabled me to
come home for school plays, coach soccer for the boys, help out
with basketball and get involved in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
So, it was a number of years of just pure fun and enjoyment for the
boys and me, with Mary Beth by my side.”
Although not a St. John’s alumna, Mary Beth shares her husband’s
affinity for the University that has always been important to him,
and now means so much to them both. She is quick to acknowledge the
special sense of warmth and acceptance that has always made her
feel a part of the St. John’s community.
“St. John’s really makes you feel like family,” she said. “I
didn’t go to St. John’s, but I’ve always felt very welcome there,
and they have adopted me as part of their family. St. John’s gives
its students a great education and a strong sense of caring about
others, which means that they go out into the world with not only
an academic foundation but an ethical foundation as well.”
She credits St. John’s University President Rev. Donald J.
Harrington, C.M. with setting the tone that makes everyone with a
connection to the University feel like they belong. “St. John’s has
always gone out of its way to make me feel very comfortable,” she
said. “A lot of it is Fr. Harrington, who is just a special person.
He takes a personal interest in you, as does everyone on his staff.
They remember you, and they always care.”
Birchbys continue to be impressed with the changes that have taken
place at the University since John was a student in the early
1970s. They are pleased that while St. John’s has evolved into one
of the world’s most respected institutions, its commitment to
providing an exceptional education for young people who might
otherwise not have had an opportunity to earn a college degree has
“When I was there, St. John’s was basically an inner-city
school,” recalled John. “Today, it’s offering a higher education
for people in the metropolitan area and around the world, and there
are so many scholarship opportunities for students who need them.
Look at the famous and successful alumni of St. John’s. Would they
have been as successful or had the same opportunities without St.
John’s? I think not. St. John’s stands out as offering a great
opportunity to every individual. My dad is a fine example of that.
He went to St. John’s Law School at night, and everything that he
did in his life was because of the education he got at St.
Wanting to express their appreciation for what St. John’s did
for both of them, John and his father decided that it was important
to give back to the University in a meaningful and practical way.
In 2003 they established the Kenneth L. Birchby and John D. Birchby
Scholarship Fund to help defray the educational expenses of several
deserving students in St. John’s School of Law each year. The
scholarship fund currently has assets of more than $1 million.
John and Mary Beth were also instrumental in providing funding
for a major facilities upgrade of a lecture hall in the School of
Law, a decision that was made after John was on campus for a
Continuing Legal Education course.
“When I was walking through the Law School building a few years
ago, I noticed that one of the lecture halls on the left had been
renovated, and it looked very nice. But I saw that the other on the
right looked the same as it had 35 years ago. I told Mary Beth, ‘I
know we give each year to the scholarship fund, but this building
has a beautiful lecture hall to the left, and the one on the right
really needs additional work.’ I spoke to [the late Law School Dean
[Mary] Daly about it and she mentioned that they could definitely
use a contribution to renovate it. So Mary Beth and I discussed it
and called Dean Daly and said we’d like to help renovate the
lecture hall, and now it looks a lot better.”
Dedicated in 2009, the Birchby Lecture Hall incorporates
state-of-the art technology, such as a professor’s smart podium to
operate lighting, audio, video and internet connectivity as well as
functional and comfortable furnishings for the students.
recognition of his outstanding legal career and exceptional
generosity, the School of Law presented John with the Belson Medal
in 2005. Three years later, the University presented John with the
President’s Medal and inducted him and Mary Beth into The Founders
Society, an exclusive donor recognition group reserved for St.
John’s most generous supporters.
The Birchby legacy at St. John’s continues in the person of John
and Mary Beth’s son Timothy, who is currently pursuing a Master’s
degree in Elementary Education at The School of Education. A former
Paralegal and Writer’s Assistant in Los Angeles, he acknowledges
that his decision to change careers was “…a natural progression for
me at this time in my life. I’ve always loved working with
children, and especially having a child of my own now, it’s all the
more relevant for me.”
Once Timothy decided to change careers, he didn’t need to think
twice about where to go for his new degree. He remembered hearing
his grandfather and father tell stories about their experiences at
St. John’s, and was happy to carry the Birchby tradition into the
“St. John’s has quickly become my own second family,” he said.
“I feel very lucky for the opportunity to be there. I’m going at
night, and everyone’s there because they want to be there. We’re
all working towards the same goal, and that really increases the
sense of community at St. John’s. We’re all trying to help each
other achieve the same thing.”
A humble and unassuming couple who radiate kindness and warmth,
the Birchbys have embraced the Vincentian ideals by happily
offering assistance to others without any expectation of acclaim or
recompense. Their reward lies in seeing the impact that they’ve
made on the people they’ve helped, and hoping that they’ve served
as an inspiration for others to do the same.
Mary Beth, “When students whom we’ve helped tell us that they want
to do something for us in return, we tell them, ‘When you see
someone else who needs something, help them. Pass it on.’ For me, I
hope we’re remembered just to encourage others to give if they’re
in a position to do so. I hope we inspire others to do the
“We all have a responsibility to give back and help those who
need help,” agreed John. “You know, it’s very nice that the
University put our name on the lecture hall. It wasn’t necessary
though, and it’s not necessary that our name be on the scholarship.
What’s important is that the lecture hall got redone, and those
scholarships exist. Mary Beth and I have been very blessed that
we’ve been able to help, and we would be remiss if we did not help
others who needed it. The special values that have always served as
the foundation of St. John’s are very true ideals that have stood
the test of time. They’re not outdated, and I’m sure they never