Linowitz, Sol Myron

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Linowitz, Sol Myron

(b. 7 December 1913 in Trenton, New Jersey; d. 18 March 2005 in Washington, D.C.), attorney, business executive, and diplomat who conegotiated the Panama Canal Treaty.

The eldest of four sons of Polish Jewish immigrants, Linowitz was born in a multicultural neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey. His parents were Joseph Linowitz, a fruit importer, and Rose (Oglenskye) Linowitz, a homemaker. The family enjoyed a very comfortable standard of living, thanks to the success of Linowitz’s father’s business. In 1931 Linowitz graduated first in his class from Trenton Central High School. His plans for college were briefly threatened when the Great Depression all but shut down the family business. However, with a combination of scholarship assistance and the promise of part-time work, he was able to enroll at the prestigious Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. Over the course of his four years at Hamilton, he worked waiting tables, tutoring, delivering newspapers, and selling Christmas cards. He also showed a flair for the dramatic, appearing in a number of college productions. So impressed was the school’s drama director, Alexander Woolcott, that he urged Linowitz to consider a career on the stage.

At Hamilton, Linowitz became acquainted with one of the college’s most distinguished alumni, Elihu Root, who had served as secretary of state during the presidential administration of Theodore Roosevelt and was the 1912 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. After losing his vision, Root returned to his alma mater to live out the final years of his life. As one of his jobs at Hamilton, Linowitz read to Root, and on one occasion the older man asked him what he intended to do with his life. Linowitz said he could not decide whether to be a lawyer or a rabbi. “Be a lawyer,” Root counseled. “A lawyer needs twice as much religion as a minister or a rabbi.” In the spring of 1935 Linowitz earned a BA from Hamilton with honors, and that fall he enrolled at Cornell Law School. Before graduating first in his class with a JD, he served as editor of the Cornell Law Quarterly.

Unable to decide between a job on Wall Street and a position with a small law firm in upstate New York, Linowitz opted for the latter. Sutherland & Sutherland, located in Rochester, was operated by Arthur Sutherland, a former state supreme court judge, and his two sons, Andrew and Arthur, Jr. Although his pay at the family firm was roughly half of what he would have earned on Wall Street, Linowitz never regretted his decision. In a 1995 interview with the District of Columbia Bar publication Bar Report, he said that his years at Sutherland & Sutherland taught him that “law is a human profession. If you are going to get satisfaction and personal fulfillment as a lawyer, you’ve got to do things that are helpful to people. You can’t practice law impersonally.” On 3 September 1939, about a year after beginning work in Rochester, Linowitz married Evelyn Zimmerman, with whom he would have four children.

On 7 December 1941, Linowitz’s twenty-eighth birthday, Japan attacked American forces based at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. The following day Linowitz went to the recruiting office in Rochester to attempt to obtain a commission in the armed services, but he was turned down because of an old college soccer injury to his left knee. Determined to somehow contribute to the war effort, he left Rochester and took a job with the federal Office of Price Administration, in Washington, D.C., handling appellate cases in the rent-control program. During this period he became acquainted with Richard M. Nixon, who worked in the organization’s rationing department. In 1944 Linowitz received a naval commission, but he was never cleared for sea duty.

Returning with his wife to Rochester in 1946, Linowitz discovered that Sutherland & Sutherland was a very different firm from the one he had left four years earlier. Andrew Sutherland had retired, and Arthur Jr. wanted to leave the firm to teach. Linowitz and his colleague George Williams did their best to shepherd the firm back to prosperity, but all they could do was maintain operations. Joe Wilson, a good friend of Linowitz’s and the president of Haloid, a company that sold photographic paper, asked the attorney to help him acquire option rights to a new technology called electrophotography. The process, which had been invented in 1938 by Chester Carlson, was being refined at the Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio. Linowitz and Wilson traveled to Columbus to witness a demonstration of the process, and in 1948 Linowitz negotiated an option agreement.

The first xerographic copier using Carlson’s process was produced in 1949, and over the next ten years the Haloid Co. worked to refine a model for mass production. In 1958 Haloid changed its named to Haloid Xerox Inc. The fruit of the company’s labors, finally widely marketed in 1959, proved to be an enormous success. Linowitz, who had served as the company’s general counsel and vice president since 1953, was eventually named chairman of the executive committee. In 1961 Wilson became chief executive officer, while Linowitz was named chairman of the board, and Haloid Xerox Inc. officially changed its name to Xerox Corporation.

As chairman of Xerox, Linowitz was introduced to the colorful Texan vice president Lyndon B. Johnson. Over the next several years, Johnson offered Linowitz a series of jobs in Washington, all of which the attorney turned down. In the fall of 1966, however, President Johnson made an offer that Linowitz would not refuse: he finally left Xerox to accept a joint appointment as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and as U.S. delegate to the Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress.

Shortly after Richard Nixon’s election as president in 1968, Linowitz left government service to return to the practice of law. Remaining in the nation’s capital, he took a position with the firm of Coudert Brothers, which gave him an opportunity to work on international cases for the first time. During his years with that firm, he occasionally served on presidential commissions and also as a roving ambassador. In the mid-1970s Linowitz served on a commission assessing U.S.–Latin American relations. The commission’s report predicted that the most serious conflict the United States would face in the region over the next several years would be over the future of the Panama Canal. Largely on the strength of his participation on that commission, Linowitz was selected by the newly elected President Jimmy Carter to partner with Ellsworth Bunker in the negotiation of a new canal treaty. The treaty, vehemently opposed by many in the conservative community, was narrowly ratified by the Senate in 1978 after lengthy and acrimonious debate.

Under the terms of the agreement negotiated by Bunker and Linowitz, control of the canal would be gradually turned over to Panama. In 1979 the waterway’s operation passed into the hands of the Panama Canal Commission, a joint U.S.-Panamanian agency, and on the last day of 1999 Panama assumed complete control of the canal. Reflecting on his role in determining the canal’s future, Linowitz told Bar Report, “In retrospect I’d have to say that assignment was probably the most difficult and exciting challenge of my life. It is also the accomplishment of which I’m most proud.” In the final fourteen months of the Carter administration, Linowitz served as the president’s personal representative in the Middle East peace negotiations.

In The Betrayed Profession: Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century (1994), Linowitz sadly observes that his chosen profession had been transformed from its original noble nature into a “huckstering business operation.” In a speech the following year, he called on his colleagues “to demonstrate that their concern as lawyers is with the human and the humane, that they are truly committed to the principle of equality of access to the law, that lawyers accept the obligation to serve all of the people in our society.” Not until this was done, he said, would lawyers “find that we have won and deserve the appreciation and respect of those we seek to serve—then and only then will we once again be able to say with dignity and honor: ‘I am truly proud to be a lawyer.’”

Linowitz’s years of service to his government were recognized in 1998 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Of the honoree, Clinton said, “If every world leader had half the vision Sol Linowitz does, we’d have about a tenth as many problems as we’ve got in this whole world today.” On 18 March 2005 Linowitz died of pneumonia at his home in Washington, D.C. He was ninety-one.

During his life Linowitz wore many hats. Although he was a successful attorney and business executive, most Americans will remember him for his accomplishments in the realm of government service. Without question, the crowning achievement of that service was the Panama Canal Treaty, which was jointly negotiated by Linowitz and Bunker. Although many Americans opposed the treaty and predicted dire consequences, in the twenty-first century, under the sole control of Panama, the canal has continued to function as a vital maritime link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Linowitz’s memoir, The Making of a Public Man (1985), offers valuable insight into his years of government service in the administrations of Presidents Johnson and Carter. A lengthy interview with Linowitz conducted by the District of Columbia Bar, featuring much biographical information, is “Legends in the Law,” Bar Report (Aug.–Sept. 1995). Obituaries are in the Washington Post (18 Mar. 2005) and New York Times (19 Mar. 2005).

Don Amerman

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