July 01, 2013
For John D. Birchby ’73L, ’13HON, the most important
priorities in his life have always been about family. He has two –
the Birchby Family and the St. John’s family – and for him, they’re
really one and the same.
“I’m the middle generation of a three-generation St. John’s
family,” he noted. “My father graduated from St. John’s School of
Law in 1949, I graduated from there in 1973, and when my son
Tim decided to change careers and become a teacher, it was St.
John’s all the way. The University has been a part of our family
for decades, and we’ve all enjoyed great opportunities because of
Birchby’s association with St. John’s began at an early age. He
remembers as a child asking his father [Kenneth L. Birchby, Esq.
’49L, ’88HON] what he did for a living and where he had gone to
school, because even then he wanted to follow in his
footsteps. Not surprisingly, when it came time for law
school, St. John’s was the natural choice.
“My father was a great role model, and I loved being with him,” he
said. “He took me to St. John’s basketball games, and we always had
a very special time. Looking back, I really can’t remember a time
when St. John’s wasn’t a part of my life in one way or another, and
when I decided to go into the legal profession, St. John’s gave me
the education and the skills I needed to be successful. I’ll always
be grateful for that.”
He began his career as a Tax Specialist with the accounting firm of
Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., and since 1975 has been a
Partner in the law firm of Dieffenbach, Witt and Birchby,
specializing in banking law, real estate and estate planning. 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.”
Over the years, Birchby has shown his love for St. John’s in a
variety of ways.
He and his wife Mary Beth are members of
The Founders Society, a group reserved exclusively for the
University’s most generous donors. Recognizing the importance of
student scholarships, in 2003 he and his father 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. He and Mary Beth also provided
funding for a major facilities upgrade of a lecture hall in the
School of Law. Named in their honor, 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
And the love between Birchby and his beloved University flows both
ways. In 2005 the School of Law honored him with the Belson Medal,
and in 2008 a grateful University presented him with the
President’s Medal. He was again recognized at the
Annual Alumni Convocation in May, when St. John’s conferred an
honorary Doctor of Laws on this exceptional alumnus.
“My father received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from St.
John’s in 1988,” he said, “and for me to follow in his footsteps is
quite an honor. I’m very humbled by this award, and I’m so grateful
to be here. Our whole family just loves St. John’s, and it started
with my father. The opportunity that St. John’s gave him and I led
to so many wonderful life experiences for the Birchby family. This
outstanding university will always hold a special place in our