Remembering Louis Lowenstein


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New York, September 17, 2009 – Ronald Gilson already had a notable career when he first arrived to teach at Columbia Law School in 1991. But after meeting Louis Lowenstein ’53, he found out how even he still had a lot to learn.

“I came to regard Lou as the closest thing to a mentor that I ever had in my career,” said Gilson, during a memorial Wednesday for Lowenstein, a longtime corporate and securities-law professor, who died Apr. 18 at the age of 83.
The memorial was held in a packed room at Jerome Greene Hall, where Law School faculty, former students, and family honored a man they revered for his scholarship, unwavering integrity and generosity.
 “Lou was proof of the idea that there is no necessary correlation between excellence and ego, and that the highest of achievers can be the sweetest and most decent of people,” said David M. Schizer, Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. “Lou’s intellect and character were the gold standard.”
 Schizer noted how Lowenstein’s impact on many of his students was felt long after they left his classroom.
“A great many of his students have told me how profound his influence has been on their careers, and how deeply they respect and love him,” Schizer said.
One of them is William Savitt ‘97, an adjunct professor at the Law School and partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Savitt met Lowenstein when he was editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review, where Lowenstein served as chairman.
After Savitt graduated, Lowenstein asked him to join the board, of which he remains a member. “It was like being asked to sit at the grown-ups table,” Savitt said.
As a professor, Savitt recalled Lowenstein “was a great talker but an even better listener,” and had a way of “coaxing things out of his students rather than trying to stuff things in.”
Lowenstein had a distinguished and prosperous career as a corporate lawyer and company president before joining the Law School faculty full-time in 1980 and becoming one of the nation’s most influential critics of corporate misconduct. He did not take on that role by accident, said Ellen P. Chapnick, Dean of the Social Justice Program.
“His understanding of the human fallibilities of those who run corporations and the dreams of those who invest in them informed his efforts to promote corporate responsibility and financial transparency,” Chapnick said.
That sense of fair play and justice also extended to his being active in public service, especially as an advocate for the homeless, and helped inspire what may be Lowenstein’s most-enduring legacy at the Law School.
In 1998, he and his wife Helen – who told the audience Lowenstein’s Law School tenure “were his best professional years, the ones he enjoyed the most” -- endowed the Lowenstein Fellowships. They provide enhanced loan repayment support for Columbia Law School students who show exceptional dedication and potential for contribution to public interest law.
“It is said of some people that they love humanity, but not humans,” Chapnick said. “Lou loved both.”
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