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August 26, 2010

In memoriam: William B. Saxbe

Saxbe For the last five years, I have had the great honor of having a great man's name in my title, as I have served as the William B. Saxbe Designated Professor of Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Earlier this week, Attorney General (and Senator and Speaker and Ambassador) Saxbe passed away, and this obituary in the Columbus Dispatch highlights just some of the many reason I remain proud to have this accomplished man's name in my professional title:

William B. Saxbe, a plain-spoken, tobacco-chewing U.S. senator from Ohio who brought a hint of stability to the Nixon administration during the darkest months of the Watergate scandal, died yesterday. He was 94.

Saxbe, a one-term senator whom President Richard M. Nixon appointed U.S. attorney general during the height of Watergate in 1973, died at his home in Mechanicsburg, northwest of Columbus....

An atypical politician, Saxbe used salty language, made spur-of-the-moment decisions and alienated some by blurting out colorful quotes. But he also was admired by many for saying what was on his mind.

Regarded as a moderate-to-liberal Republican, he had little use for political party ideology. Often, he crossed swords with GOP leaders and carved his own way through the political jungle of Ohio.

After a 30-year career in government that took him to the upper chambers of power in Washington, Saxbe abruptly quit politics and never looked back, practicing law and enjoying life for another 30-plus years....

The son of a livestock broker, Saxbe barely could afford to go to Ohio State University when he began there in 1934, during the Great Depression, so he attended school only one quarter at a time. He worked alternate quarters driving trucks, bartending and running errands on Wall Street. At one point, he was a seaman on a freighter that sailed to South America. He graduated in 1940.

During World War II, Saxbe became an Army major and a bomber pilot. After the war, he was an auto mechanic but soon tired of that job and started law school at Ohio State in 1946, the same year he got elected to the Ohio House. He worked his way up to speaker in 1953.

Saxbe said being speaker was "the highlight of my political career" because he accomplished so many things. Among them were enacting the first comprehensive prison reform and establishing the Ohio Turnpike and the Ohio Department of Highway Safety.

Elected state attorney general in 1956, Saxbe was swept out of office along with most other Republicans by the right-to-work issue pushed by organized labor in 1958. He practiced law for four years and "made more money than I ever saw in my life." In a 1962 comeback, Saxbe won back the attorney general's office and repeated in 1966....

A Republican by label only, Saxbe was an independent sort who was unafraid to criticize President Richard Nixon's policies and appointees. For example, when Nixon resumed the bombing of North Vietnam after his re-election in 1972, Saxbe said the president "appears to have taken leave of his senses."

Early in the Watergate scandal, Saxbe said Nixon's claiming ignorance was like "the guy who played the piano in a bordello saying he didn't know what was going on upstairs." After Nixon resigned, President Gerald Ford appointed Saxbe ambassador to India, where he served for two years in tense political times.

Saxbe's commitment to public service, his fierce independence, and his willingness to speak his mind (often with a sense of humor) have long been an inspiration to me.  In both my professional and personal life, I will continue to strive to live up to the honor and privilege of having his name in my title.

August 26, 2010 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


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Good namesake for Prof. Berman.

If this does not violate anyone's privacy, it would be interesting to learn who provided the endowment for this prominent chair.

The chair is well filled, and they are getting their money's worth.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 27, 2010 12:38:24 AM

Very well stated, Prof. Berman. The right person indeed is filling this honored endowed chair.

Dennis Terez

Posted by: Dennis Terez | Aug 30, 2010 6:46:54 PM

Nicely done, Doug.

- George

Posted by: George Conk | Aug 31, 2010 11:56:13 PM

does not violate anyone's privacy, it would be interesting to learn who provided the endowment for this prominent chair.

The chair is well filled, and they are getting

Posted by: power balance | Sep 10, 2010 11:34:41 PM

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