The Womble Bond Dickinson family mourns the loss of Jesse Arnelle. Mr. Arnelle, a pioneer in the legal profession and former Womble Bond Dickinson (then Womble Carlyle) attorney, passed away Oct. 21 at his San Francisco home at the age of 86.

Mr. Arnelle and William Hastie formed Arnelle & Hastie, one of the nation’s first Black-owned corporate law firms, in 1984. They built the firm into a successful business, employing 60 lawyers and landing several global brands as clients. 

One of those clients—R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (then RJR Nabisco)—led him to Womble Carlyle. He collaborated with former firm Managing Partner Keith Vaughan and long-time litigation team leader Grady Barnhill on tobacco litigation, and when he retired from his own firm in 1997, Mr. Barnhill and Mr. Vaughan recruited him to join Womble Carlyle. Mr. Arnelle served as Of Counsel at the firm for eight years.

But even if Mr. Arnelle had never co-founded, Arnelle & Hastie, he still would have led an amazing life. 

College basketball fans may know his name as a Penn State All-American. Mr. Arnelle led the Nittany Lions to the Final Four in 1954, and he finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He played one season in the NBA for the Ft. Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons.

But Mr. Arnelle’s calling proved to be the law, not athletics. After serving in the US Air Force, he graduated from the Dickinson School of Law and worked in the Peace Corps and the Labor Department and on Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. He then began his career in private practice with a San Francisco corporate law firm.

Mr. Arnelle also served for 45 years on the Penn State Board of Trustees. He is survived by his wife Carolyn Block-Arnelle, son Michael Arnelle, and daughter Isis Bastet.

Click here to read more about Jesse Arnelle in the New York Times.