It is with great sadness that the Committee reports the death of John E. Nolan, the esteemed first Chair of our organization and longtime Executive Committee and Board member. John died on November 18 at the age of 90.
He was a graduate of US Naval Academy and a highly decorated Marine officer during the Korean War. Following his military service, John graduated from Georgetown Law School and then accepted a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark. He joined Steptoe & Johnson in 1956, taking leave from the firm in 1960 to work on the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 and 1968 to work on the senatorial and presidential campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy. In 1963 and 1964 he worked in the Justice Department as an Assistant to Attorney General Kennedy. Following his government service, John returned to his practice at Steptoe, where he remained active in a variety of leadership roles until his retirement a few years ago.
In 1968 John was recruited by Louis F. Oberdorfer, a former Justice Department colleague and then a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, to play a key role in the creation of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. He was assisted in this effort by John Douglas, Robert L. Wald, William D. Rogers, Herbert J. Miller, Jr. and Edward Bennett Williams. Selected as the Committee’s first Chair, John was instrumental in helping to establish the Committee’s early programs and building its relationships with law firms throughout the city. He remained actively engaged in the Committee work throughout his more than 50 year career, often providing wise counsel to the Committee’s staff on the development of new programs.
As a lifelong civil rights champion, John Nolan exemplified the best qualities of pro bono service in our profession. The Committee will be forever in his debt.. His role in helping found the Washington Lawyers’ Committee is but a part of his enduring legacy.