In Memoriam: Warren Christopher
The partners and personnel of O'Melveny & Myers LLP mourn the loss of former United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the Firm's Senior Partner and Former Chairman who passed away on March 18, 2011 at the age of 85 after a courageous battle with bladder and kidney cancer.
Mr. Christopher was widely regarded as an exemplary lawyer and public servant who achieved prominence in both the legal profession and on the global stage as he moved seamlessly between public service and private enterprise, often serving both simultaneously. His wise counsel to four United States Presidents, several California Governors, and a number of Los Angeles Mayors helped to shape pivotal events throughout the second half of the 20th century. His many accomplishments included serving as chief negotiator in securing the release of the 52 American hostages in Iran in 1981; overseeing the negotiation of the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War; serving as chairman of the commission that investigated the Rodney King assault and subsequent riots in Los Angeles; and serving on the California Hate Crimes Task Force.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss described him as "the kind of public servant the Founders imagined--a man of principle, integrity, modesty, loyalty and public spirit." When Mr. Christopher stepped down as United States Secretary of State, President Bill Clinton praised his inestimable contributions. "Through dignity, determination, hard work and skill; through an unbelievable, powerful collection and combination of his intellect, his integrity, and his good heart, Warren Christopher has earned our nation's admiration and a debt that can never be fully repaid," said President Clinton. "He has left the mark of his hand on history -- not in some theoretical, intangible fashion, but in concrete ways that have made a real difference in the lives of the American people and people around the world."
Mr. Christopher also was a guiding force in shaping the history and culture of O'Melveny & Myers LLP, the oldest law firm in Los Angeles. A brilliant lawyer, his work on behalf of clients over the course of his six-decade career helped to produce many landmark legal developments. Equally important, during his tenure as Chairman of Firm from 1982 to 1992, and beyond, Mr. Christopher infused the Firm with his enthusiasm for public service, his concern for underserved segments of society, and his focus on bringing greater diversity to the professional workforce. "Chris's passing is a profound loss for our firm," said Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr., who served as Chair of O'Melveny & Myers from 2000 to early 2012. "He will be a lasting role model of principled leadership, uncommon grace, and genuine humanity for the Firm's partners, lawyers, and staff. His legacy and leadership will continue to inspire us in a great many ways, most especially as we endeavor to uphold the values he exemplified."
Born in Scranton, North Dakota on October 27, 1925, Warren Minor Christopher graduated magna cum laude from University of Southern California in 1945. From July 1943 to September 1946, he served in the United States Naval Reserve, with active duty as an ensign in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He entered Stanford Law School in 1946, graduating in 1949.
His legal career began auspiciously. At Stanford, Mr. Christopher was president of the Board of Editors of Volume I of the Stanford Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. Following a clerkship with Justice William O. Douglas on the United States Supreme Court, he joined O'Melveny & Myers in 1950 as an associate. He soon became an outstanding litigator, a widely respected counselor, and a leader in the legal profession.
Heeding the advice of Justice Douglas, who had urged his young law clerk to "get out into the stream of history and swim as fast as you can," Mr. Christopher answered numerous calls over the decades to serve the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, and the United States by lending his intellect and tireless commitment to addressing some of the most difficult conflicts of our time, including domestic upheaval during the tumultuous year 1968, the Iran hostage crisis, relations with China and post-Soviet Russia, negotiations to end conflicts in the Middle East and Bosnia, and the Los Angeles riots. He chose to return to O'Melveny & Myers each time his term of service ended.
In 1958, California Governor-elect Edmund G. Brown asked Mr. Christopher to act as his special counsel during his transition. Three years later, he was appointed chairman of the U.S. delegation to the United States–Japan Cotton Textile Negotiations, after which he was appointed chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Geneva Conference on Cotton Textiles, while also acting as special consultant to U.S. Undersecretary of State George W. Ball.
Mr. Christopher's involvement in national and world affairs continued to expand from that point forward. He served as the U.S. Deputy Attorney General from 1967 to 1969 in President Lyndon Johnson's administration. From 1977 to 1981, he served as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. In that role he helped to win ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, among other notable achievements. Mr. Christopher's signature accomplishment during his tenure was spearheading the negotiations that led to the release of the 52 American hostages in Iran. For his work, President Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Reflecting on his term in office, President Carter later paid tribute to Mr. Christopher as "the best public servant I had ever known."
Mr. Christopher rejoined O'Melveny in 1981 and a year later became Chairman of the Firm. His tenure, which lasted until 1992, was marked by his early recognition of the gathering forces of globalization. Mr. Christopher spearheaded O'Melveny's national and international expansion, overseeing the opening of offices in New York, London, Tokyo, and San Francisco and the consequent increase in firm size from 254 lawyers to 800. And as a business developer, Secretary Christopher had few peers. In the volumes chronicling the Firm's history from 1965 to 1990 and beyond, Everett B. Clary writes: "An astounding number of the adversarial and transactional matters described in this work initially came to Christopher. No human being could have managed all of them. He had the ability to involve other lawyers, turn over most of the work to them, and help the clients come to rely on them, while remaining sufficiently well-informed to be able to advise and counsel on major strategy issues."
In 1993, Mr. Christopher was sworn in as the 63rd US Secretary of State. Secretary Christopher championed the post-Cold War Partnership for Peace program as a stepping stone to full NATO membership for former Warsaw Pact countries, which eventually resulted in the entrance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. He also presided over initiatives to improve relations with China, and to both return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power and reinstate democracy in Haiti. Additionally, Secretary Christopher played a pivotal role in bringing the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty to fruition and in restoring full diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Among his greatest triumphs as the nation's chief diplomat was overseeing the negotiation of the 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War.
Secretary Christopher headed the State Department until 1997, when he rejoined the Firm as the Senior Partner, a title created especially for him. In that role he consulted with Firm leadership on a wide variety of international matters, and helped to negotiate and to advise clients on sensitive disputes. In 2002 he chaired the internal firm committee that crafted the Firm's values statement which sets forth the principles that serve as the criteria for every firm decision.
Mr. Christopher was equally proud of the Scholarship Awards that bear his name, established in 1992 with a gift from O'Melveny's partners to honor him when he was appointed Secretary of State. The Warren Christopher Scholarship program will be a lasting memorial to Mr. Christopher, and to date has awarded four-year college scholarships to 170 promising, yet severely disadvantaged, Los Angeles Unified School District students who have overcome great odds to succeed in college and beyond.
Mr. Christopher was tapped for executive leadership roles in numerous non-profit higher education, foreign relations, and philanthropic organizations, and on several high-profile local, state, national, and international fact-finding commissions over the years. Most notably, he was Vice Chairman of the McCone Commission, which investigated the causes of the Watts Riots in 1965, and in 1991 he chaired the Independent Commission that investigated and reported on reforming the Los Angeles Police Department, which came to be known as "the Christopher Commission." From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Christopher co-chaired with Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III the bi-partisan National War Powers Commission, impaneled by University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs to study competing constitutional claims to "war powers" among the three branches of government. After intensive study and many hearings, the Commission issued a widely acclaimed report, which called for the enactment of the War Powers Consultation Act of 2009, the repeal of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, and far more systematized consultation between the President and Congress before the nation commits troops to war. The two former Secretaries of State presented the report to both houses of Congress and President Obama.
Mr. Christopher also served as President of the Board of Trustees of Stanford University; Chairman of Carnegie Corporation of New York Board of Trustees; Director and Vice Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations; co-chairman of the Pacific Council on International Policy; Director of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council; President of the Coordinating Council for Higher Education in the State of California; and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. From 2003-2010 Mr. Christopher taught an undergraduate Honors Collegium class at UCLA on international affairs sponsored by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations and the UCLA International Institute. In 2008 the Warren Christopher Professorship of the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy was established at Stanford Law School, funded through an endowment made possible by gifts from O’Melveny & Myers and a number of its current and retired partners.
Mr. Christopher also authored four books, including In the Stream of History: Shaping Foreign Policy for a New Era, and Chances of a Lifetime, his best-selling memoir published in 2001. During a 1993 Los Angeles Times Magazine interview Secretary Christopher summed up his life's work with characteristic modesty. "I've always tried to steer things a little bit beyond where they were before," he said.
Mr. Christopher, who was known as “Chris” to his close friends, stayed fit by jogging daily and playing tennis. He also was a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Christophers have a beach house in Santa Barbara where he cherished spending his free time. He is survived by his wife Marie, his children Lynn, Scott, Thomas, and Kristen, and five grandchildren.