Joseph A. Melli

Joseph A. Melli

Joseph A. Melli, age 90, a well-known Madison attorney, died Monday, June 16 in Madison.

He was born in Kenosha, WI on January 1, 1924 to Calogero Melli and Rosaria (Mongiavillano) Melli, immigrants from Sicily. Joe graduated from Kenosha High School in 1942, the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1946 and the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1950. The same year, he married fellow law student, Marygold “Margo” Shire.

In 1958, Joe founded Melli, Smith & Shiels which evolved to be Melli, Walker, Pease & Ruhly, known today as Melli Law, S.C. He practiced law with extensive work in labor and employment law and business litigation. He officially retired in 2003 remaining of counsel, yet continued to be active with the State Bar and related endeavors to the very last.

Joe served as the President of the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Association, Director of the State Bar of Wisconsin Labor and Employment Law Section, and President of the Senior Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Wisconsin. The Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory gave him its highest rating of “AV” for professional competency and ethical conduct. He received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Law Journal, for his career and its “lasting imprint on the state’s law community” and named one of their “Leaders in the Law” in recognition of his “outstanding leadership, vision and legal expertise.” In 2010, the Dane County Bar Association renamed its mentoring program the “Joseph A. Melli Mentorship Program” in honor of his work in co-founding the program, and in 2014, the Senior Lawyers Division of the State Bar awarded him the prestigious Leonard Loeb Award.

Joe was an active member of the Madison community. He served as Trustee and member of the Executive Committee of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, as member of the Board of Directors of Tandem Press (University of Wisconsin Department of Education), and was on the Board of Visitors of Edgewood College.

He and Margo enjoyed traveling, museums, theater and the fine arts. Their infectious love of art always centered on its enjoyment and appreciation. Skiing with the Houden family was a favorite activity, and he was an avid scuba-diver, cyclist and runner in his day. Eventually his pace may have slowed, but he was always in motion.

In 1976, Joe rediscovered his Sicilian roots, visiting the birthplace of his family in the small hill-town of Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily. It was a seminal moment for him, resulting in lasting bonds with multiple generations from his Italian heritage. He diligently studied Italian at Edgewood College, and made numerous visits to Torino, Italy and beyond. Joe and Margo were voracious travelers throughout their lives, visiting the four corners of the globe, with any or all of their children in tow.

He took great pleasure spending time at the Melli-Bixby “Farm” on the Mississippi River, where both families enjoyed nature and spectacular Wisconsin scenery. He cherished summers in Door County, Wisconsin, vacationing with lifelong friends, the Troller and Williams families. The iconic image of him preparing his famous spaghetti dinners on the 4th of July will endure for us all.

Joe was always a trusted source of advice and moral compass for us all, always leading by example. He was a true gentleman, the life of the party, and his commanding voice and hearty laugh will be missed by all.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marygold (Margo) Shire Melli, Voss-Bascom Professor of Law Emarita at the University of Wisconsin; children: Joseph S. Melli and wife Susan of Fort Atkinson; Sarah Melli of McFarland; Alex Melli of Laguna Beach, California; grandchildren: Sephi, Samantha, and Skye; as well as family and relatives throughout the US and Italy.

Joe is preceded in death by his daughter Sylvia A. Jacobs, and granddaughter Taryn Esther Melli; siblings Josephine, Charlie, Tony, Anne and Jim.

A “Celebration of the Life of Joe Melli” will be held at the Madison Club in Madison on Thursday, June 26 from 4-8 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the School of Madison Ballet Scholarship Program.

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