Gift Endows Grace Rodriguez ’86 Scholars Program

With a $5 million commitment, Rodriguez’s husband, John J. Sullivan ’85—along with their children and her mother—has established a program that perpetuates her legacy of mentorship while providing a three-year, full-tuition scholarship to one incoming student each year. 

Woman in colorful scarf with man in cap

Grace Rodriguez ’86 and John J. Sullivan ’85 in Ireland in 2015.

When Grace Rodriguez ’86 died after a short illness at the age of 60 in 2022, her husband, John J. Sullivan ’85, their three children, and her mother were overwhelmed by the number of people who shared stories about Rodriguez’s role in their professional and personal lives as a counselor and confidante. 

A longtime partner in the Washington, D.C., office of King & Spalding, Rodriguez specialized in complex civil litigation, antitrust matters, whistleblower actions, and internal investigations. In addition to her practice, Rodriguez held numerous leadership positions at King & Spalding, including serving on the policy committee and chairing the associate evaluation committee. “Grace loved practicing law,” says Sullivan, former U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, former deputy secretary of state, and now a partner at Mayer Brown. “She was like a detective. She loved doing interviews, getting documents, finding out what happened, sorting out all the BS, and figuring out when people were lying to her. She had very good instincts as a human being.”

Shortly after Rodriguez died, Sullivan began discussing ways to memorialize her with their children—Jack, Katie, and Teddy—and her mother, who is also named Grace. They agreed that a fitting legacy would be a scholarship at Columbia Law School, where she and Sullivan met, fell in love, and served as editors on the Columbia Law Review. The Grace Rodriguez ’86 Scholars Program, established by her family, provides a three-year, tuition-free Columbia Law education for one exceptional, deserving incoming student each year. The program will also develop a network of Rodriguez Scholars; recipients will be encouraged to perpetuate the values Rodriguez exemplified throughout her life by acting as mentors and role models for subsequent student recipients and fellow graduates of the program throughout their careers.

Family of three men and three woman at the State Department
The family at the U.S. Department of State in 2017. Left to right: Teddy Sullivan; Katie Sullivan; John Sullivan; Grace Rodriguez; Grace's mother, Grace; and Jack Sullivan

“Grace always provided good counsel not only to young lawyers and her colleagues, but also to our kids and her friends who were not lawyers,” says Sullivan. “For young women associates in particular, she would take the time to counsel them on the differences between equity and non-equity partnerships and balancing practice with family obligations.”

Katie Sullivan SIPA ’19 says her mother built an enduring network that crossed generations. “Everybody she mentored became really close friends,” she says. “Some of them feel like part of the family.”

Jack Sullivan BUS ’20 says his mother was deft at blending work and family life. “King & Spalding was like a second home to me growing up. We ran around that firm like crazy when we were kids,” he says. “We knew the partners. We knew the summer associates. And people made us aware of how she was involved in their lives. And the cohort of scholars we’re building will help and influence each other the way my mother would have helped others.”

Following funeral masses for Rodriguez, King & Spalding held a memorial service attended by longtime partners and associates as well as lawyers who worked with Rodriguez but no longer practiced at the firm. “It was incredible to hear how much she had done for others by listening to the partners speak, listening to men cry,” says Rodriguez’s mother. “People came to Grace in times of need, when they were going through something very difficult, and Grace was there for them, as she always was for me.”