Tony Palermo, board emeritus and resident of St. Ann’s Community, continues to serve through special event held at Chapel Oaks
Posted on September 5, 2019
Anthony R. Palermo continues to serve the community he helped launch. Now a resident of St. Ann’s Community at Chapel Oaks in Rochester, Tony is passionate about bringing people together.
He recently held a talk to share his story as a young prosecutor for one of the most important spy trials of the 20th century. Palermo is the lone surviving member of the legal team that prosecuted KGB agent Rudolf Abel on charges of espionage in 1957. The case was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies, which starred Tom Hanks as Abel’s defense attorney Jim Donovan.
Tony speaks regularly to family, friends, and senior communities alike about his role in the trial of Rudolf Abel. He hopes his storytelling brings people in the community together and encourages others to share their stories.
Rochester Attorney Experienced “Bridge of Spies” Story Firsthand
“The year was 1957. America was in the throes of the Cold War. We were gripped with fears of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union, and Communism.”
So reads an article published by the New York State Bar Association in 2016, the year Steven Spielberg’s film “Bridge of Spies” was nominated for an Academy Award. The connection? Attorney Anthony Palermo.
Now a resident of St. Ann’s Community at Chapel Oaks in Rochester, Tony Palermo was just 27 years old when he was assigned to the four-person legal team prosecuting Abel, the highest ranking foreign spy ever convicted in the U.S. (Abel was later exchanged for U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers who had been captured by the Soviets).
“America was worried”
Tony recalls the climate at the time: “The Russians were beating us in space. They had launched Sputnik, and America was worried.” Spy satellites and the threat of nuclear war were on everyone’s minds and the Cold War was in full swing.
Rudolf Abel’s arrest, Tony says, “uncovered a treasure trove of incriminating stuff,” including hollowed- out pencils and trick coins that could contain secret messages. Despite being represented with great integrity by Donovan, Abel was found guilty—a victory for young Tony and the defense team.
A celebrated career
Following that illustrious start, Tony went on to a long and celebrated career as an attorney, including representing the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rochester and many years with the law firm Woods Oviatt Gilman, where at age 89 he continues to consult. He also spent 25 years on the Board of Directors of St. Ann’s Community and retains the title of Board Member Emeritus.
“It was during my tenure on the board that the idea for Chapel Oaks was launched,” he says, referring to the independent living community where he now lives. “It was in keeping with St. Ann’s mission of not only meeting the needs of seniors and their families but anticipating their needs in the future.
“I’m delighted to see that carried out every day by the staff here at Chapel Oaks and across St. Ann’s. There’s constant dedication to understanding the needs of the residents. I’m so proud to be here and to have been part of the original vision for Chapel Oaks.”