The poetic setting for Lloyd Cutler’s memorial service would have been a courtroom. Or maybe the Oval Office. Possibly a classroom. But the number of people who loved and respected the consummate lawyer number in the thousands, so the law firm he founded rented out Constitution Hall yesterday. Family, friends and colleagues — hundreds from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr — gathered at the historic hall to bid farewell to a Washington legend.
“He was something special,” public policy scholar Norm Ornstein said before the service. “The combination of talents! Smart as could be, knew everybody and everything, an incredible knowledge of the Constitution and the law, down to earth, and a passion for making the country and politics better. He made this town . . . more humane and advanced the interests of the nation.”
And he loved fine food, great wine and delicious gossip. “Consummate” is the adjective of his life. Quite possibly he was the perfect Washington man.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton led the tributes at the two-hour memorial. Earlier in the day, a long list of boldface names gathered at Christ Church in Georgetown in a smaller memorial service to praise his life and legacy.
“Lloyd Cutler was a decent and wise man,” said Gonzales, who told the Constitution Hall audience that he didn’t know him well, “but, like you, I went to him when I needed help.”
All the stories, all the praise boiled down to this: Cutler, who died May 8 at the age of 87, personified the “lawyer-statesman.” It’s an old-fashioned term from the Washington of decades ago, when being part of the city’s permanent establishment of lawyers, thinkers and problem-solvers was a noble profession. Before “inside the Beltway” was a pejorative, before “lawyer” was a punch line, men like Cutler came to the nation’s capital because they believed their country wanted and needed them.
He was, of course, an idealist. He believed in truth, justice and word as bond. He taught young lawyers the importance of law in public policy, government and democracy. His oft-repeated motto was “Don’t just do well — do good.” He founded the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project. He co-chaired the Committee on the Revision of the Czechoslovak Constitution. He was a teacher and mentor to thousands.
Cutler’s great skill was to calmly set aside politics and tackle problems. “He wanted it — whatever ‘it’ was — to work and work well,” Breyer said at both memorials. That meant following conscience instead of clients, identifying the issues at hand, and finding a way to make it work for everyone.
“He was a lawyer for strategy rather than the particular client,” said ABC News President David Westin, who was part of the VIP crowd in the audience at Constitution Hall. “He was not blindly partisan.”