Some people believe in destiny. Others subscribe to the notion of random encounters to explain life and love. And then there are David Pudlin, L’74, and Helen Pomerantz Pudlin, CW’70, GED’71, L’74, who stick to the alphabet theory.
By the immutable law of alphabetical order, which has often governed class seating, David and Helen found themselves sitting alongside each other on the first day of their first year at the University of Pennsylvania Law School back in 1971.
Although they still debate about whether there was another student with a last name that began with “Pr” wedged between them, both agree that had it not been for that accident of the alphabet, and the resulting seating proximity, their lives might have turned out differently.
Today, Helen Pudlin serves as executive vice president and general counsel of The PNC Financial Services Group, headquartered in Pittsburgh, and David Pudlin is president and chief executive officer of Philadelphia law firm Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin. But decades later, they still remember the serendipity of their seating-meeting, their law school courtship, and the happily ever after that has been the result.
David Pudlin will insist that he noticed Helen immediately on August 28, 1971, the day when classes began — no orientation back then. “She looked cute, she had great hair, so I said hello,” he recalls.
He also remembers how Helen Pomerantz quickly realized that he had a car, and how they arranged a visit, the very next day, with Helen’s sister and her family who lived in a Philadelphia suburb.
What Helen remembers of that very first meeting is slightly different. She definitely recalls turning to her two seatmates, left and right, and asking whether either wanted to play tennis after class. “David was the first to answer ‘yes,’ so we did, and I found out that he had a car,” she acknowledged. “Then, when he played so well with my nephew, it was immediately obvious that he was a good prospect.”
After they started dating, her early impressions were as positive as his. And while Helen immediately told David that she wasn’t ready to be tied down to anyone at that point, he asked only that they go out on Saturday nights. “A good beginning,” says Helen. “He was a nice guy, great with children, liked the movies and had a car…”
The relationship deepened well beyond that as the first year of law school progressed. Although they didn’t study together, they were clearly a couple, and by Dec. 23, 1972, they were engaged. A year to the date later, they were married.
David Pudlin recalls taking his corporate tax exam two days before, going home after finishing the test, and then getting married. Helen had been off on a placement with the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C. that first semester of her third year, so their wedding, arranged mainly by both sets of parents, was a reunion of sorts.
Was there academic competition between the Pudlins before and after their marriage? Not a bit, they claim. But David earned some gloating rights when he graduated with a grade point average two-hundredths of a point higher than his wife’s.
After law school, the Pudlins happened to work in the same downtown Philadelphia building for two different law firms, David for Duane Morris Heckscher, Helen for Ballard Spahr. In mid-afternoon, they’d meet on the staircase for a candy break.
David Pudlin would gravitate to a smaller law firm, and in 1994, helped found his present firm with eleven other lawyers. Today, there are 54 in the firm, a size that Pudlin still enjoys.
Helen Pudlin’s path was different. After becoming a partner at Ballard Spahr, she began working for PNC in a “testing the waters” kind of way, and in 1993, was asked to become general counsel of the parent company. By then, the couple had two children, and managed to work out a remarkably smooth domestic arrangement.
“I’d typically spend Thursday nights to Mondays at home when the children were younger,” says Helen. “David stayed in the Philadelphia area, managed the household while I was away, and did it wonderfully. This never could have worked without his enthusiastic support.”
The Pudlins’ daughter developed a ritual with her mother that lasted for over a decade. They spoke by phone every night when they were apart, reviewing not just one another’s days, but also ideas, books and feelings. Today, that daughter, Julia, 24, is herself a second year student at Penn Law School. Alex, 27, also thrived during his parents’ unusual arrangement, and lives and works in Los Angeles. On reflection, both Helen and David still bless the alphabetical seating at Penn Law School back in 1971 that brought them together.
“I realize every day how lucky I am,” says Helen. David has a similar view: “I’m so grateful for that first day of law school. We recently celebrated our 35th anniversary, so I guess that says it all.”