Briefing Room


Saxbe made impact at Moritz, in Ohio, across nation

April 5, 2011 | Alumni

William B. Saxbe ’48 passed away on Aug. 24, 2010 at the age of 94. He was a former U.S. senator and served as U.S. attorney general under Presidents Nixon and Ford. It is impossible to quantify the value of the contributions made by Saxbe to his country, state, and The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Saxbe’s career in public service dates back to his law school days when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1946 while still a student. He served four terms in the Ohio House, including a time when he was speaker of the House. He was also elected to three terms as Ohio attorney general. He served as a U.S. senator before being appointed U.S. attorney general. He was appointed ambassador to India in 1975 and served until 1977. In private practice, he was a principal in the firm of Chester Willcox & Saxbe in Columbus.

“William Saxbe’s extraordinary life exemplified the highest ideals of public service,” said Alan C. Michaels, dean of the Moritz College of Law. “The scope of his accomplishment in his legal career remains a source of unending pride for his alma mater. He was a true giant in the field, and he leaves a remarkable and inspiring legacy. We at the law school are among the many that benefited from his leadership and generosity.”

In 2002, the Moritz College of Law named its auditorium after Saxbe and established a designated professorship in his honor. Over the past eight years, senators, U.S. Supreme Court justices, judges, and countless thought and policy leaders from around the nation have visited the College’s Saxbe Auditorium. All of the College’s main events – from orientation to lectures and a final farewell to graduates – are held in the space named for Saxbe.

Saxbe, originally from Mechanicsburg, Ohio, holds a bachelor’s degree (1940) and an honorary doctorate (1975) from Ohio State and is a longtime supporter of the University. His son, Charles “Rocky” Saxbe, is a 1975 graduate of the College and his grandson, Jake, is a 2005 Moritz graduate. In addition, he is also survived by wife Ardath “Dolly” Saxbe, daughter Juli Spitzer, son William B. Saxbe Jr., and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Law School Friendships Were Invaluable

By Rocky Saxbe ’75

In his book, I’ve Seen the Elephant, my father briefly recalls his time at the Ohio State College of Law, sheepishly confessing: “It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get by.” I can say the same for my three years.

While neither Dad nor I were leading scholars in law school, we accumulated many friendships which rewarded us personally and professionally over many years. This element of law school, friendships and relationship building, seems at the time a secondary concern to a student absorbed in learning the law. But on reflection, for my father and me, it was the most valuable part of our law school experience.

For Bill Saxbe, classmates Robert Minor ’48, Stan Darling ’48, and Tom Connor ’48 became lifelong political supporters whose own success as accomplished attorneys proved invaluable to him as he advanced in his public service career. It has been the same for me. Many of my law school colleagues have also achieved remarkable success and remain close to me socially and professionally. The respect and trust we developed in each other over 35 years ago have grown and today we still enjoy each other’s company and are able to accomplish professional objectives which would have been much more difficult without our Ohio State connection.

So for all the Saxbes, Bill, Rocky and now my son, Jake ’05, we appreciate the education afforded to us by the College of Law. But we also recognize that the friendships which we began here can not be underestimated as we reflect on our lives and careers.

‘Honesty, Wisdom, Courage’

By Robert Duncan ’52

The Honorable William B. Saxbe of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and I are natives of Champaign County, and it was my good fortune to have known him all of my adult life. He was my mentor and good friend.

For many years he performed outstanding public service for his country, state, county, hometown, the legal profession, and many people. Bill loved people – people from all social strata and walks of life. He seemed to know everyone. His commonality and engaging personality, in my life’s experience, were without match. He enjoyed life and was comfortable with who he was.

I take license to speak for a large number of lawyers who plentifully benefited from his intelligence, leadership style, honesty, wisdom, courage, common sense, character, and professional skills. He was a masterful lawyer in a most disarming manner. He has a wide breadth of experience having represented clients at tribunals ranging from Justice of the Peace courts to the Supreme Court of the United States. He was a small town lawyer and a big town lawyer. He had a gift for fact synthesis, issue identification, and the evaluation of the social outcome of a proposed legal opinion or court decision.

Most Americans will remember William B. Saxbe for his public service as attorney general of the United States. More specifically, for his role in the 1974 antitrust litigation involving the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which resulted in a corporate separation into a number of smaller companies. In the “Watergate Matter” in the wake of the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre,” he successfully addressed challenges that were among the most perplexing ever confronted by any attorney general of the United States. The Washington Post correctly commented that he was “a blunt spoken and independent senator from Ohio who helped shield the Watergate investigation from political meddling.”

He was straightforward, and became well known as a public official who has no reluctance to clearly state what was on his mind. It is hard to imagine that he was ever fearful of anything. I never knew him to back off from his convictions for the sake of just “getting along” or political expediency.

On occasion I discussed racial matters with Bill. I remember seeing him in the basement of the Statehouse in August 1965 – the day after the Watts, California riots began. During our conversation, in essence he said that people have got to obey the law, and when they don’t they should be prosecuted. He said that this country is undergoing needed changes, and we need to get on with them as soon as humanly possible. He said that all people in this country should have equal opportunities for a good life. Those were concise, accurate, and truthful expressions of his view of civil justice, which in my view, is righteous. Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of the time when men and women would be judged on the content of their character. Bill Saxbe so judged people all of his life.

I must confess to hero worship. Bill Saxbe was my hero.

Saxbe turned U.S. Justice Department in Right Direction

By Peter Shane

William Saxbe served as U.S. attorney general for a brief, but pivotal time in the history of the Justice Department. He took over in the wake of events that had demolished the Department’s morale and reputation for professionalism. John Mitchell’s involvement in the Watergate debacle and the departures of Elliot Richardson, William Ruckelshaus, and Archibald Cox were devastating. President Richard Nixon had little credibility left to choose any new attorney general. It probably seemed imperative to turn not only to a sitting senator, but to a Republican who had been outspokenly critical of the White House – and thus firmly marked as an independent thinker. William Saxbe fit the bill.

In accepting his new assignment, Attorney General Saxbe undertook the delicate task of representing “the United States of America,” even as the U.S. House of Representatives was investigating “the president” for possible impeachment. A likely signal of his approach came in February 1974, barely two months into Mr. Saxbe’s tenure. The Department made public a five-part report by the Office of Legal Counsel reviewing key legal aspects of the impeachment process. The report conspicuously declined to proffer definitive resolutions to key legal questions that history showed to be highly ambiguous – for example, did the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” embrace only criminal offenses? But the very tone of the report – analytic, detached, academic – seemed to signal a new determination to show the Department rising above partisanship.

Fortunately, one assumes, for both Mr. Saxbe and for the country, Richard Nixon’s resignation cut short the need of government lawyers to focus on impeachment issues. As a transitional attorney general, however, heading into the Ford administration, Mr. Saxbe had other important issues to deal with, such as the management of records and papers that Nixon had left behind in the White House. His primary legacy, however, probably lay in stopping the Department’s reputational slide and laying the groundwork for a new era of professionalism and independence. His immediate successors, Edward Levi and Griffin Bell, were able to build on that legacy, which was a precious gift not only to the Department, but to the country as a whole.

Saxbe A Straight Shooter

By John J. Chester

Bill Saxbe was a dedicated family man. He was dedicated soldier, politician, and public servant. He was a dedicated Republican. He opposed hypocrisy and corruption in any form. He was a straight shooter who spoke the truth as he saw it. You always knew where you stood with Bill Saxbe.

I first met Bill Saxbe in 1952 when we both ran successfully for the Ohio House of Representatives. He was running for his fourth term as speaker of the House, and I was running for my first term. He immediately struck me as the type of man with whom I wanted to be associated not only as a friend but in Ohio politics. Following our tenure as state representatives, Bill ran successfully for Ohio Attorney General four times and then was elected to the United States Senate in 1958. I am honored to have been a part of all of his election campaigns. What made Bill a successful politician was that ordinary people and business leaders liked him for being the affable man that he was. He was free-speaking, honest, direct, and intelligent yet unpretentious and unassuming. Moreover, Bill was fun and sociable. As such, he was well liked by everyone.

He will always be remembered as man of his word. We spent innumerable hours together in Washington during Watergate while he was attorney general and I served on the Nixon defense team. During that time, I saw first-hand that Bill would not compromise the independence and integrity of the Justice Department as he had promised the Senate. He did not yield to pressure from the White House to violate the law or his principles. His integrity was steadfast and unwavering.

We had a good run together. I am proud to have been his partner and friend.