“Most talking is not glamorous,” said Warren Christopher ’49 in his 1981 commencement address at Stanford University just months after the Iranian hostage crisis had ended. “Often it is tedious. It can be excruciating and exhausting. But talking can also tame conflict, lift the human condition, and move us close to the ideal of peace.”
The 63rd secretary of state (1993-1997), Christopher was the consummate lawyer-statesman—multifaceted and unstinting in his service to the nation and the larger global community. He passed away on March 18, 2011.
“He was a friend, a mentor, and truly a diplomat’s diplomat. he served our country with such great distinction in so many capacities over his long and very productive life,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a statement. “There are a lot of days in this job when I ask myself, ‘What would Warren do?’ from the Balkans to the Middle East, to China and Vietnam, he helped guide the United States through difficult challenges with tremendous grace and wisdom.”
A skilled negotiator and an accomplished lawyer whose career spanned five decades, Christopher deftly moved between public and private practice, serving three American presidents and a multitude of commissions and advisory boards, while also assuming senior leadership roles at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
As deputy secretary of state under President Carter, Christopher played a key role in the release of American hostages in Iran. And as secretary of state under President Clinton, he helped to bring peace to Bosnia and to parts of the Middle East.
President Carter awarded him the medal of freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in 1981.
From 1982 to 1992, Christopher served as chairman of O’Melveny & Myers and was a senior partner until this year. In 2008, the law firm honored him by endowing the Warren Christopher Professorship of the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy, a joint appointment between Stanford Law School and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.
“Warren Christopher was a unique and very special person,” says Larry Kramer, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “He was brilliant and thoughtful, generous, modest, and unselfish to the core. In everything he said and did, he embodied what we mean when we say someone is classy.”
Born in Scranton, North Dakota, on October 27, 1925, Christopher came to Stanford Law School directly from active duty with the Naval Reserve, where he served as an ensign in the Pacific. At law school he was selected president of the first volume of the Stanford Law Review and graduated Order of the Coif.
After receiving his JD, Christopher clerked for Justice William O. Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court. He then joined O’Melveny & Myers in October 1950 and began a lifelong partnership with the law firm that embraced his periodic leaves for service in government.
His first political appointment came in June 1967 when he was tapped for the job of deputy attorney general of the United States in the Johnson administration, a position he held until 1969. He again answered the call to government in 1977 when the Carter administration asked him to serve as deputy secretary of state, a position he held until 1981. In 1993, he was asked to serve as secretary of state in the Clinton administration. He held that position until 1997.
In 1991 Christopher was appointed chairman of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police department that investigated the Rodney King assault and subsequent riots in Los Angeles. In 1992, he headed the vice presidential search for Governor Bill Clinton and served as director of the presidential transition.
Most recently, he co-chaired—along with former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III—the Miller Center’s National War Powers Commission.
Christopher was married to the former Marie Wyllis. They had four children, Lynn, Scott, Thomas (BA ’81), and Kristen (BA ’84), and several grandchildren.
A special remembrance of Warren Christopher by Judge Raymond Fisher ’66 can be found here.