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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 4, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 28
Thinking Out Loud

William R. Brody

By William R. Brody

Goodbye, Dear Friend and Statesman

Two weeks ago, Johns Hopkins University trustee emeritus Sol Linowitz passed away at the age of 91. Diplomat, lawyer, businessman and adviser to countless people — United States presidents, lawyers and judges, corporate CEOs, journalists, university and college presidents — Sol was a unique figure. And until age 90, he was actively attending Hopkins trustee meetings.

He began his career as a lawyer in Rochester, N.Y. Working with one of his clients, the Haloid Corp., to acquire the license for patents on a new copying technology, he became a founder and ultimately the chairman of the Xerox Corp., overseeing the growth of a fledging company into a multimillion dollar giant. Recruited by President Lyndon Johnson to become the United States ambassador to the Organization of Latin American States, Sol then spent the next four decades of his life in various diplomatic assignments, including that of negotiating the Panama Canal Treaty. Under President Carter, Sol was ambassador to the Middle East, engaging in complex negotiations with Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin.

I happened to be at the Carter Center and met President Carter there, shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Seeing several pictures of Ambassador Linowitz in the displays, I remarked that we had a mutual colleague. President Carter told me that Sol's work during his administration was "one of the major reasons why I won the Nobel Prize."

In 1998, the ambassador was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. "Receiving advice from Sol Linowitz on international diplomacy is like getting trumpet lessons from the angel Gabriel," Clinton said at the award ceremony, quoting Mack McLarty, a friend of both men. "If every world leader had half the vision Sol Linowitz does, we'd have about a 10th as many problems as we've got in this whole world today."

A recitation of Ambassador Linowitz's accomplishments would take many pages, and even then, this record of distinguished public and corporate service would tell only a portion of the story. Sol was the quintessential Renaissance man. Lawyer, businessman, statesman, confidant of and adviser to the powerful and famous, he was part psychologist, part strategist, part rabbi. An accomplished violinist, he played in the Utica (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra while an undergraduate at Hamilton College. At the core, Sol was a scholar. As salutatorian of his college graduating class, he delivered his commencement address in Latin. I never found out if many in the audience understood what he said.

He served on the boards of trustees of Hamilton College, the University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, Cornell University and, of course, The Johns Hopkins University. He placed universities and the Supreme Court at the top of his list of important institutions. Not simply a trustee, he was an adviser to college presidents, and I count myself among the lucky few who received the pearls of wisdom at his feet. After most trustee meetings, I could expect a call from Sol for an invitation to a luncheon meeting. During the salad course, he would compliment me profusely on how well I had conducted the meeting, and then proceed over the entree and dessert, gently and very deftly, to proffer a number of suggestions as to how I might improve my performance the next time. His thoughts were always delivered with compassion, and with the goal of helping me become a better president.

As a trustee at the University of Rochester many years ago, Sol wrote a pithy article titled "A Liberal Arts College Is Not a Railroad." Addressing the fundamental differences between the corporate world and universities, this piece is so insightful that I frequently hand it out to new trustees at Hopkins. To give you a flavor of the ambassador's wit and wisdom, I quote a few passages of the article:

"To a great extent, the very thing which is often referred to as the 'inefficient' or 'unbusinesslike' phase of a liberal arts college's operation is really but an accurate reflection of its true essential nature. Perhaps it is worth re-emphasizing what a liberal arts college is all about: That it seeks to offer a long look into what has been said, thought and written in the civilizations of the past and an opportunity to see the workings of different societies in perspective.

"A liberal education is supposed to give us a feeling for the depth of our roots and a sense of the stuff of which we are made. The right kind of liberal education should create thoughtful and responsible citizens who will exercise their obligations with moderation and wisdom. Its essence is, as Plato put it, 'learning to like the right things.'

"A college may offer a course in Persian history, for example, which only five students will attend. Should we abolish the course? Or should we hope that the few students who do learn something of Persian history will thereby become uniquely qualified to perform some important service for which this particular aspect of their education has especially fitted them?"

There he was, years ago, saying that it may not appear needful, but that someday we may want to have some people around who knew the history and culture of Persia — modern-day Iran. How prescient that was. How thoughtful. And how like Sol Linowitz.

Goodbye, Mr. Ambassador. Johns Hopkins University has benefited greatly from your many years of dedicated service. And my life is richer, indeed, having been touched by your wisdom, grace, friendship and humor.


William R. Brody is president of The Johns Hopkins University.


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