George Kidder; attorney helped guide and strengthen BSO, 84

George Kidder was instrumental in expanding Tanglewood. George Kidder was instrumental in expanding Tanglewood.
By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / September 11, 2009

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“Where the outside world is concerned,’’ George Kidder told the Globe in 1990, when he was president of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s board of trustees, “I’m the strongest possible advocate of the orchestra.’’

Who could disagree? During more than a quarter century of volunteering up to 1,000 hours a year with the orchestra, he helped dramatically increase the organization’s real estate holdings around Symphony Hall and at its summer home in Tanglewood. With a steady hand, he also kept order behind the scenes in an assemblage with no shortage of monumental egos, and made sure the towering talents of conductors Seiji Ozawa and John Williams stayed on the podiums of the symphony and the Boston Pops.

But the time Mr. Kidder devoted to the BSO was only a sliver of his involvement with more than a dozen institutions and organizations in Greater Boston, chief among them Children’s Hospital, where he chaired the board of trustees, and the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, which he served as chancellor for 20 years.

Mr. Kidder, whose day job was at the Boston law firm Hemenway & Barnes, where he was a partner for more than 40 years, died in his Concord home Aug. 20 of complications from colitis. He was 84.

“George was one of those rare combinations of a man who had a deep life of faith combined with a sense of service, not just to the life of the church, but to Christian values in the community,’’ said Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, who will officiate at Mr. Kidder’s memorial service later this month. “I think because of that he was an inspiration to people across the diocese and across the Boston community. He was always giving of himself in any number of situations.’’

Using his legal skills as chairman of the Children’s Hospital board, Mr. Kidder demonstrated that what happens outside the laboratory can be as significant as the research.

“There was a time when innovative devices necessary to cure children with heart disease were stalled because of issues surrounding liability,’’ said Dr. Jim Lock, the Nadas professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “George Kidder had the vision to create a completely new model of reducing liability risk that has benefited children all over the world. Without George Kidder, pediatric device developments would have been set back a decade.’’

Lock added that Mr. Kidder also “understood better than almost anyone the fact that Children’s Hospital’s mission was to take care of the children of the region and not just to make money. His courage and vision in maintaining the independence of Children’s Hospital at a crucial juncture has served all of the children in the region extremely well.’’

Mr. Kidder, who grew up in Concord and lived there most of his life, went to St. Mark’s School in Southborough. He graduated from Tufts University in 1945 with a bachelor’s in engineering, then served in the Navy.

In 1950, he graduated from Harvard Law School and went to work at Hemenway & Barnes, taking time out during the Korean War to serve in the CIA’s Office of the General Counsel.

Mr. Kidder, who was twice widowed, married Nancy Drohan 14 years ago. His first wife, Ellen [Warren], died in 1956; his second wife, Priscilla [Hunnewell], died in 1993.

His love of music began as a boy, and his mother first took him to Symphony Hall in the early 1930s, a memory all the more acute because “my gray flannels were so scratchy that I wore my pajamas underneath,’’ he recalled in a 1994 Globe interview.

By the 1960s, he was helping out with a BSO fund- raising campaign. Soon after, he became an overseer, then a trustee, and then president of the board.

“He was an incredibly strong leader, and one of his proudest achievements was almost doubling the size of Tanglewood,’’ said Mark Volpe, managing director of the BSO. “He had the foresight, he had the strength of conviction, and he had, frankly, the fortitude to push that through.’’

Mr. Kidder’s other significant legacy with the orchestra was his “fantastic relationship with John Williams, and they remained close to the very end,’’ Volpe said of the former Boston Pops conductor, whose talents as a composer are regularly sought by Steven Spielberg and others in the movie industry. “Somehow, George through his powers of persuasion kept John. We could never pay what Hollywood pays, to state the obvious.’’

Accomplishing so much meant Mr. Kidder invested a large part of his life of with the BSO. “Some years this has meant the commitment of more than 1,000 hours of time - not billable hours! I always need more time; that’s my main problem,’’ he said in the 1994 interview. “But I remain convinced that this is the best volunteer job in the City of Boston.’’

It was hardly his only volunteer job. Mr. Kidder served on many other boards, including some associated with Harvard Law School, WGBH, Wellesley College, the Episcopal Divinity School, and St. Mark’s School.

“Dad was just a wonderful man who found time in what was an extraordinarily busy schedule for family, for work, for friends, and for the various charities with which he worked over so many years,’’ said his son Stephen of Belmont. “What dad loved more than anything was helping people. He just got enormous satisfaction, and it drove him in everything he did.’’

One of the things Mr. Kidder did very well was solve problems, say friends who knew his work with the BSO, Children’s Hospital, and the Episcopal diocese.

“He was one of those people who always said, when a difficult situation had come up, ‘There’s a way we can do this,’ ’’ Shaw said.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Kidder leaves two daughters, Susan of Mill Valley, Calif., and Priscilla Blevins of Durango, Colo.; three other sons, George Jr. of Charlottesville, Va., Timothy of Manhattan Beach, Calif.; and Peter of Palo Alto, Calif.; two stepsons, Charles Collins of Billerica and Peter Collins of Weymouth; a stepdaughter, Ann Doherty of Sherborn; and 17 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 in the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. Burial will be private.