SOUTH RIVER – In 1968, Jeffrey Golden graduated from South River High School (SRHS). He would attend three different universities before starting his career at a Wall Street law firm in 1977. Five years later, he was sent to London on what was supposed to be an 18-month assignment. However, 18 months somehow turned into 40 years.
Now in 2022, his outstanding law career is being recognized by the Queen of England.
Although Golden humbly credits luck for his career success, he openly admits that his upbringing in South River played an important role in his life.
His roots were established a century ago by his grandparents, Louis and Rose, who settled in South River to raise their new family. They owned and operated Golden’s Deli, a popular venue on Ferry Street that amassed a loyal following of locals. Golden described the store as an amusing and friendly space full of “local characters,” which of course, included his grandfather.
According to Golden, his grandfather exemplified generosity as a family man and business owner.
“My grandfather’s will was legendary. After making some provisions for the family, he is reported to have bequeathed millions to charity.
“Of course, as a deli owner, he had almost no money to give, but he just wanted the world to know what he would do with his millions if he had them!” he said.
Golden’s father, Max, also embodied the core values of community that defined his grandfather’s legacy. At an early age, he advised Jeffrey and his brothers, Robert and Andrew, to not let materialism override the importance of character.
“Dad’s love for the town and its people was inspiring, and it was infectious. He encouraged us to see and take advantage of the ‘good of the place.’
“He also taught us to look through the ‘trappings’ of success and judge others in the community, and show respect for, their many personal qualities,” Golden said.
These life lessons resonated with Golden as he traversed the hallways of SRHS from 1964-68. Labeled as “a helping hand” in his yearbook, he actively participated in several committees, clubs and sports, some of which included the Spanish Club, the Dance Committee, the Boys’ Chorus, Student Council, varsity wrestling and band.
He vividly recounts those years as magical not only for himself, but for his generation.
“That was a magical time to be a student anywhere. The news being reported was all about our generation. And, of course, there was the music. Those were also glory years for our SRHS football team. The era of future NFL quarterback Joey Theismann and NFL Hall of Famer, Drew Pearson.
“We always seemed to win. The victory parades, car horns honking down Main Street were a treat. … Now I may be biased, but the SRHS Class of ’68 was a very special class. Full of talent,” Golden said.
His academic and athletic interactions created a foundation of interpersonal skills that made him sociable, he said. What initially seemed like simple fun and games were actually building blocks that developed traits which would complement his future line of work.
“It has been the nature of my professional work that it has brought with it the challenge of ‘getting people to say yes’, that is, trying to achieve consensus across great geographical and cultural divides. So how do you do that? How should I react to the very different personalities that I must deal with?
“Well, you put in the effort, you try to come up with creative, right and compelling solutions, but of course you can’t escape your background, your own experiences. And I start with SRHS Class of 1968. That doesn’t mean a lot to others, but it means a lot to me …
“At our high school and in our class, there was always a sense of possibility, mixed with a wicked sense of humor and fun, to a degree that I had never seen before or have since. You had a great mixing of backgrounds,” he said.
From an early age, Golden expressed an interest in pursuing a law career. However, despite his ambitions, the process took time as he attended three different universities to study.
In his junior year, he studied abroad at the London School of Economics (LSE). He would not only receive a scholarship to finance his graduate studies, but he would also meet his future wife.
“I had met my wife Rita in the LSE library soon after first arriving when we were both undergraduates. We met on a Tuesday, moved in together that weekend and have been under the same roof for more than 51 years since,” he said.
He would eventually return home and land a job in New York. Although excited, the experience was a culture shock for the South River native.
“I then took the well-greased slide from an Ivy League law school to a Wall Street law firm, my first legal job following qualification. That was approximately 45 years ago, and it was a bit of a culture shock. More people worked in my building than lived in South River,” Golden said.
But five years after arriving in New York, he ironically found himself on a flight back to London for an 18-month assignment. And 40 years later, he’s still there.
As a junior finance lawyer in London, he was given the opportunity to help create the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), which at the time seemed unimportant, he said. However, the standard form agreement published by the ISDA blossomed to support $600 trillion of worldwide derivatives trading.
Furthermore, Golden explained that a rule change in the United Kingdom allowed non-English law qualified partners to collaborate with English law qualified lawyers, thus opening the door for a golden opportunity to remain in London.
“One of the leading London firms, a so-called ‘magic circle’ firm named Allen & Overy, invited me to join as the firm’s first non-English law qualified partner. … That move was viewed as revolutionary at the time.
“When I reached what was then the traditional retirement age at Allen & Overy, which was 60, my alma mater, LSE, said ‘old’ was OK if you were a professor, and so I joined the law faculty there as a visiting professor.
“While at the LSE, I was elected a governor of the school, later an Honorary Fellow and had the privilege to serve as chair of the LSE’s Global Alumni Group.
“I now practice in a barrister’s chambers in the ‘ye olde’ legal atmosphere of the Inns of Court in London across from the Royal Courts of Justice. … Four years ago, the other members elected me Joint Head of our Chambers, the first non-barrister and American to hold such a position,” he said.
Now on March 21, he will be appointed Queen’s Counsel for his contributions to the law of England and Wales.
A press release by the UK’s Ministry of Justice states, “Jeffrey has made an outstanding contribution to London’s development and recognition as an international legal center and in supporting new entrants into the profession.”
Golden simply described this new career achievement as “gratifying.”
“It is a huge honor to be recognized in this way by The Queen, not least because I am not English law qualified. It is particularly gratifying because of the distinguished group, which included members of the UK Supreme Court, who nominated me for the appointment.
“At this stage of my career, aside from being called Dad by my children, Papa G by my grandchildren and Darling by my wife, I cannot think of anything that I would rather be called than Queen’s Counsel Honoris Causa,” he said.
Looking back, the SRHS Class of ‘68 alum and ‘06 SRHS Wall of Fame inductee is ultimately grateful for his hometown and all the friends, memories and experiences it provided.
“I have incredibly fond memories of South River. It had a ‘Little Rascals’ feel when we were kids; an ‘Archie Comics’ atmosphere in high school … I learned many important lessons about life in South River, about pride and loyalty, lessons of the power of team – for a start, I learned that it is all about people.
“As the angel Clarence reminded us in the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘No man is a failure who has friends,’ ” Golden said.
To those back home, Golden encouraged his distant neighbors to preserve the township’s legacy.
“I hope you feel as lucky as I do to be able to have called South River home. Take pride in its legacy. Do get the good of the place. And I’ll be counting on you to keep South River special!” he said.