Having graduated early from high school, Arnold Bloom went to Amherst College and then soon left to recuperate from an illness. Once healthy, he joined the US Army during World War II at the age of 17, and his intellect made a quick impression.
“We were grabbed out of infantry basic training and sent to the University of Minnesota for the Counterintelligence Corps to study Japanese,” said his longtime friend Bill Hennessey of the South End.
During their months of studying, the unit the two young men had left was sent to Europe and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“While we had been in basic, our instructors used to say to us, ‘Look to the left, look to the right. One of you will be dead in a few months,’ ” Hennessey said. “And when we read the death notices in the winter of 1944, many of the men we trained with were killed. Arnold always said, ‘We ought to have an attitude of gratitude.’ That was his expression.”
Mr. Bloom, a real estate lawyer who also represented Bruins star Phil Esposito and others in the early days of professional athletes negotiating complex contracts, died of heart failure Jan. 26 in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was 86 and lived in the Boston part of Chestnut Hill.
An early specialist in real estate law, Mr. Bloom built a reputation as a lawyer whose opinion should be sought and followed.
“Whenever anybody was doing anything involving real estate, it was always, ‘What does Arnold think?’ ” said Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard University president and US Treasury secretary.
Even though Mr. Bloom’s counsel was valued, “he never tried to impose on anybody; he would just offer an opinion if asked,” said Summers, whose brother is a son-in-law of Mr. Bloom.
Among those asking Mr. Bloom’s opinion through the years were professional athletes such as Esposito. Mr. Bloom liked the intellectual challenge of structuring contracts that provided long-term security and tax benefits for athletes by stretching payments over the years.
In September 1971, Esposito held a press conference to announce that he and the Bruins had agreed to a four-year contract. A Toronto newspaper said the pact was worth $330,000, but Mr. Bloom spoke up at the press conference to disagree.
“Those figures are inaccurate — on the low side,” he said, and Weston Adams Jr., president of the Bruins at the time, concurred.
“I wish we could have signed Phil at those figures,” Adams said.
Nearly a year later, the Bruins and Ken Hodge announced that Hodge had signed a five-year contract, and Mr. Bloom spoke up again at the press conference.
“When we negotiated the four-year contact for Phil Esposito a year ago, I told you that Phil was set for life,” Mr. Bloom told reporters. “You can say pretty much the same thing for Kenny.”
Mr. Bloom was born and grew up in Roxbury, the oldest of three children. Their mother was a seamstress and a Polish immigrant, and though educated in Ukraine before emigrating, their father sold fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon in Boston.
After World War II, Mr. Bloom received a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and graduated in 1950 from the BU School of Law. He also received a master’s in tax law from New York University before the Army recalled him for active duty during the Korean War.
In 1951, he married Irma Lewis of Brookline, who had gone to Radcliffe College and the Simmons College School of Social Work. They met during activities for Zionist causes.
Discharged from the Army a second time, Mr. Bloom opened a law firm that became Bloom and Witkin.
“He was the type of person who would do very well in an academic institution, yet he had an innate feeling for what was very practical, especially with real estate,” said his longtime partner Mark Witkin.
Combining “academic ability with just an instinctual understanding of real estate,” Mr. Bloom could gauge whether a piece of property had a promising future for commercial use. In much the same way, Witkin said, Mr. Bloom “was not necessarily a sports person, but he was able to deal in the sports world because of his understanding of business and people.”
Mr. Bloom’s years studying the Japanese language evolved into a lifelong appreciation for that country’s culture.
Along with purchasing art from Japan, Mr. Bloom “was also very curious about people,” said his daughter Diane of Chevy Chase, Md. “He was not just a collector of things. He was a collector of people. From a very early age, he was fascinated by the people around him and their stories.”
Mr. Bloom “was in his own way very courtly,” Witkin said. “He was not ostentatious in his learning. He didn’t ever try to show how bright he was or how accomplished he was in different fields.”
He also was generous with his success, from helping cover expenses at a shelter for homeless women or donating money to launch a library fund named for Hennessey and his wife, Alice, when they lived in West Roxbury.
The Hennesseys vacationed annually for several years with the Blooms in the Caribbean.
“Arnold always said we had to have a theme to discuss so that when we sat around and had our cocktails and watched the sun go down and the stars come up, we’d have something to talk about other than idle gossip,” Alice Hennessey said. “We did our homework and took it very seriously. He was always a teacher.”
A service has been held for Mr. Bloom, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves a son, Micah of North Canton, Ohio; another daughter, Ronnie of Merion Station, Pa.; a sister, Sylvia Nankin of Randolph; a brother, Martin of Swampscott and Atlanta; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Bloom left his law practice several years ago but kept a few clients and was still reviewing business e-mails just before entering the hospital the last time.
“He worked because it kept him young, and he understood that about himself,” Diane said. “It kept him alive.”
As did learning all he could about the lives of those he loved, and listening to them attentively, regardless of the subject, at work or at Passover and other family gatherings.
“I always thought he was an example of someone who had aged with enormous grace,” Summers said. “He grew up in a not very fancy neighborhood in the middle of the Depression and really lived a splendid life. He was an example to many of us.”