Arthur Makadon probably expressed the bewilderment of many people at the untimely death of Jonathan Schmidt when he said, "I cannot make sense of all this."
"Jonathan was a terrific young man with a great life ahead of him," said Makadon, chairman of the law firm of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, where Jonathan was a rising star. "How unfair does life have to be?" he asked.
No one had an answer to that question when Jonathan Thomas Schmidt died Thursday at the age of 36 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He lived in Drexel Hill. However, few people have packed as much accomplishment and good works into so few years as Jonathan did.
Despite long and frustrating treatments, some experimental, his cancer progressed until it was obvious that the end was near. Nevertheless, Jonathan continued to work at the law firm, where he focused on representing companies and individuals in anti-trust and securities matters, until early February, and he lived long enough to experience the joy of the birth of a son, Thaddeus, on Feb. 1.
"He was so excited to be a parent," said his wife, the former Andrea Humphrey. "He bought all the books on raising a child. He picked out the name, Thaddeus."
From valedictorian at Upper Darby High School, magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, master’s in economics and public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, and law degree from Yale, Jonathan embarked on a life of service.
He went to Lima, Peru, on a Fulbright Fellowship, served as chairman of the development committee of Habitat for Humanity in New Haven, Conn., led the Martin Luther King Day of Service, and worked on political campaigns in the Philadelphia area. Jonathan had a special passion for the First Suburbs Project, which he founded in 2006. Its purpose is to bring together the numerous boroughs and townships outside Philadelphia to work together to solve their problems.
"There is an inner linkage with the suburbs and the city, an interdependence," he once said. "Revitalization in these communities will be good for everyone."
"He saw what was happening in Upper Darby, where he lived," said Angela Clinton, lead organizer of the First Suburbs Project. "He met one-on-one with religious, political and community leaders to find out what their problems were. He wasn’t afraid to challenge people to be better, but at the same time support them. The success of the project is a real tribute to him."
"He was an exceptional person," said Dr. Arline McCord, whom Jonathan had described as one of his favorite teachers at Yale. "He was a wonderful student. He was such a good person. He was always helping people.
"The world will really feel his loss. He could have contributed so much more."
Jonathan’s wife, Andrea, a granddaughter of former vice president and presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, said she met Jonathan at Yale when she was a graduate student there.
"He was really a special person, somebody who was going to do special things in the world," she said. "He was very handsome and had the biggest smile I had ever seen. "He was very romantic, very sweet. His goal in life was to help people, to help change the world. He was a fantastic friend to me, a wonderful partner in every way."
Andrea said Jonathan never gave up fighting his disease. He continued his many activities to the end, especially his cherished poker nights with friends every Thursday.
His father, Tom Schmidt, a retired Daily News reporter, said of his son, "He was always bright as hell. His teachers were crazy about him. They talked about what a great researcher he was. I think curiosity was the reason he excelled. No telling what he could have accomplished."
Jonathan never forgot his roots in the suburbs, where he was born to Tom and Roberta Schmidt. His senior thesis at Yale was entitled, "How Upper Darby High School Assists the Social Integration of First and Second Generation Asian-Americans."
In the summer of 2004, he worked with the Georgia Legal Services’ Farm Worker Division writing memos on farm workers, employment and state property law. For the City of Philadelphia, he was a policy analyst for the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, or NTI, in 2000-02. He wrote the successful federal renewal community application, NTI budget documents and City Council testimony.
For the World Game Institute in Philadelphia, he was the lead researcher on the institute’s "Mapping the Global Corporation" project, a Ford Fountation-funded study of how corporations decide on where to locate. He was interim director of public education for the American Association for Cancer Research in 1997-98.
At the age of 17, as valedictorian of Upper Darby High School’s Class of 1992, Jonathan expressed what would be the shape of his future when he said his goal in life was "to use every opportunity to give others the chance to realize their potential."
After his son was born, he wrote a note to his wife that said, "To Andrea, the love of my life, the mother of Thaddeus, you have given me such happiness, you mean everything to me."
He also is survived by a sister, Marisa Schmidt.
Services: A celebration of his life was held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Upper Darby High School Performing Arts Center, Lansdowne Avenue and School Lane. Contributions may be made to the Jonathan Schmidt College Scholarship Fund at Upper Darby High School, to be awarded to exceptional college-bound seniors who have demonstrated a commitment to their community, 601 N. Lansdowne Ave., Drexel Hill PA 19026.