|Birth: ||Nov. 23, 1886|
|Death: ||Oct. 9, 1940|
Who would have guessed? There is no hint of the tragic drama yet to come in Henry G. Brock's life in his 1922 bio from "Who's Who in Finance and Banking" by John William Leonard, which reads:
BROCK, Harry G., Bullitt Bldg.: res. 1612 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa.
Investment banker: b. Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 23, 1886, s. of Robert C. H. (Coleman Hall) Brock and Alice (Gibson) Brock; ed. Haverford School, Haverford University, 1906; Phi Kappa Sigma. With Trust Co. of North America, 1910-13 when formed co-partnership with S. Dees Sinkler, the firm of Sinkler and Brock, investment bankers, Philadelphia, Pa.; dir. Aero Service Corp.; second lieutentant artillery detached service, 1917; in ambulance service, artillery commander, United States Reserves, 1917 to cessation of world War. Recreation: Tennis. Clubs: Rittenhouse, Merion Cricket. Republican. Espicopalian.
Life began ordinarily enough. Brock's parents married April 24, 1884, and he was one of three children. His father Robert was a colonel of the Second Regiment, National Guard of Philadelphia. Dying in 1906 when his two surviving children (of three) were just out of their teens, leaving a $150,000 estate, father Robert had been described as a "lawyer, financier, scientist" in 1914's "Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography: illustrated, Volume 1" which also called him "an enthusiastic automobilist, making many extensive and interesting tours."
Henry's father's influence may have been the fulcrum for a life changing experience ahead for young Henry Brock. For all his advantages in being born to an accomplished, prominent and wealthy family, his life's course and his legacy of service would be determined by something more tragic and personal; a drunk driving accident.
No one knows quite how it happened and Brock himself had no memory of it. In March of 1923 when he was age 37, there was a terrible misadventure where Brock's automobile struck three people exiting a Philadelphia trolley car, leaving a young veteran, Leo A O'Donnell, his mother Ellen O'Donnell and a family friend, a schoolgirl of 17, Mary J. Murphy dead. Brock, having just left a friend's home after an enjoyable evening, was admittedly intoxicated at the time.
It would be easy to write him off as an inebriated clubman of the day, but Brock turned this catastrophe into an opportunity to help others... including, possibly, a lady who was motoring with him who may have been at the wheel at the time. Being a gentleman, he never revealed her name.
Instead, after paying $35,000 bail, he went to court and pled guilty to murder in the second degree. The trial marked the first local, and possibly the first ever prosecuted case of vehicular manslaughter, though the term did not exist at the time. His friend who'd hosted him earlier on the evening of the accident testified plainly that Brock had been intoxicated, having had six bottles of ale. Brock got himself a top-notch attorney (Owen J. Roberts, who would become a Supreme Court justice 7 years later) to protect his constitutional interests, but never attempted to maneuver himself out of trouble, saying he recognized that the victims could not be brought back, and that he wished to submit to the law. In mid-April of 1923, Judge Charles Audenreid sentenced him to six to ten years confinement at Eastern State Penitentiary. Before remand, he was allowed to see his mother who was very ill at the time, and she would pass in 1925 while Henry was still imprisoned at the penitentiary. The visit over, he was off to jail.
It seems his time at Eastern State was eye-opening for him and brought about a spirtual epiphany. Seeing most of the inmates without occupation, idle and many angry, he recognized that for a man truly to be rehabilitated he had to work at something and consequently develop a better mindset - both to pass his time, and to later succeed on the outside.
As a result, Brock purchased from his own funds about $20,000 worth of machinery and tools to set up two workshops at the penitentiary where men could work on creating various products such as fireplace sconces, card tables and parchment lampshades. Again at his own expense, he set up a system in Philadelphia for the products to be sold, and in the first year they netted $45,000. Seeing the fruit of his investment in sales, gained skills and improved attitudes, he vowed to be a lifetime supporter of prison welfare.
He was three years and two months into his sentence when on the recommendation of the state pardon board, Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot granted him an official pardon in 1926. Said the board in their recommendation: "In consideration of all the circumstances, the time he has already served, his manly acceptance of his act, the work he has done for prisoners and his purpose to continue this work, and the letters of recommendation from the district attorney and others, the board recommends that the application for pardon be granted."
And not only that, but in an unheard of twist, by 1932, the former inmate was appointed to the Eastern State Penitentiary Board of Trustees.
His good fortune did not end there. While serving his sentence, he had met a lovely lady from a wealthy family who was doing prison welfare work at Eastern State. In Pittsburgh on June 30, 1926, Brock was married to Miss Margaret Cust Burgwin, daughter of George Collinson and Mary (nee Blair) Burgwin of Pittsburgh. The couple lived primarily at their large rural home and farm in Muncy, Pennsylvania, where many of the farm employees were former convicts.
Though the couple had no children and much of their lives was devoted to their various good works, they did manage to have a family. When World War II had begun in Europe and the threat of German invasion of England seemed very real, the couple answered an appeal to host European children whose parents wanted them out of harm's way. In 1940, the Brocks volunteered to host up to five children in their large Muncy home.
Alas, before the young British evacuees could arrive, Mr. Brock was struck by appendicitis and passed of complications. This was the public spin; his death certificate shows he passed the day he had had exploratory surgery for a "sub-diaphragmatic abcess, cause undisclosed" with hepatic disease contributing.
Despite her personal loss, or perhaps because of it, Mrs. Brock honored the couple's promise. Her husband passing on October 9, 1940, she welcomed the children on November 3, 1940. She would have them with her for six years before adopting them in 1946 after their own mother had been widowed. She would be called "Aunt Peggy" by them but ended up as mother to Brian, Sue, Sheila and Malcolm Barlow. She invited the children's mother to the United States and they became good friends. Upon Mrs. Brock's passing, the children received her estate, and the lovely rural Muncy home and 800 acre farm they had once fled to and eventually called home, the oldest home in Lycoming County. Their two mothers rest side by side in the cemetery. In an amazing quirk of fate, one of the children, Malcolm, married a descendant of Lydia Hollingsworth, the wife of Samuel Wallis who built the home in 1769.
Henry Brock's parents, siblings, and earlier family rest at Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. His brother Robert Jr. died at the age of 10, and his sister Alice Jr. died a year before him, unmarried, so it's a blessing indeed that the Barlows can carry the legacy and memory of this family and the extraordinary would-be adopted father they never got to meet.
NOTE: Every bio of Brock that I've seen (as well as his death certificate) indicates he was born in 1886, but his veteran's burial card and info from the original creator of this memorial (who may have used the same source) say 1887.
Robert Coleman Hall Brock (1861 - 1906)
Alice Gibson Brock (1861 - 1925)
Margaret Burgwin Brock (1895 - 1961)
Alice Gibson Brock (1885 - 1939)*
Henry Gibson Brock (1886 - 1940)
Robert Coleman Brock (1890 - 1900)*
Note: WWI marker. Notes from Rodger who created this memorial indicate the stone says Brock was born 1887, but every bio of him yet found states 1886. If the marker was made to match his vet burial card stating 1887, that may be the source of the issue.
Hall Station Cemetery
Maintained by: sr/ks
Originally Created by: Rodger
Record added: Sep 03, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 41519568