Nixon 'enemy' Hans Loeser, 89; admired, civic-minded lawyer

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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Like many who found their names on President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies list when it became public in the early 1970s, Hans F. Loeser was delighted.

He was included for chairing the Boston Lawyers’ Vietnam Committee, an antiwar group, and shared a section of the list with the likes of Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general, and Theodore Sorensen, who had been a confidant of John F. Kennedy.

“We had a cocktail party that afternoon, we were all so proud of him,’’ said Jim Brown, at the time a colleague of Mr. Loeser’s at the Boston law firm Foley, Hoag & Eliot.

“I got a call from him and he said, ‘This is better than the Social Register. I am on the enemies list, I couldn’t be more proud,’ ’’ said his daughter, Helen of San Francisco. “And that’s how we felt. We were completely proud of him.’’

The accomplishment spoke to more than just a liberal Boston lawyer earning the enmity of a suspicious president. Mr. Loeser spent his career encouraging colleagues to become civically involved, even if it meant challenging authority, and organizing attorneys to oppose the war reflected his role at his law firm, where he was a mentor to scores of young lawyers for nearly 60 years.

Mr. Loeser, a Jewish immigrant from Germany who served in US Army intelligence during World War II, died Saturday in the Orchard Cove retirement community in Canton. He was 89 and had lived in Cambridge for decades until moving to Canton about a year ago.

“Hans was one of the most admired lawyers in Boston,’’ said Sandra L. Lynch, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. “He was a role model for me. Hans was a first-class lawyer and just a wonderful human being, the type of remarkable leader in our community that we all admired very much.’’

As a Jew, Mr. Loeser learned the lessons of anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic. His family fled Kassel, Germany, in the late 1930s, and its department store was smashed during Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass in 1938 when Jews were murdered and their synagogues and businesses destroyed during anti-Semitic riots.

In the United States after the war, he faced a different bigotry when he graduated in 1950 from Harvard Law School, where he had been admitted without having finished undergraduate work, and became a top student and editor of the Harvard Law Review.

“There’s a famous story about Hans encountering anti-Semitism upon his graduation from law school,’’ Lynch said. “He interviewed at a very large Boston law firm and thought he had done very well, until he was told the firm was reserving ‘that place’ for another Jewish lawyer at Harvard Law School who was in the class behind him.’’

Instead, he went to work with about 10 other lawyers. “The joke is that I joined Foley Hoag because I wanted to work for a small firm,’’ he told the Globe in 1983, when the firm had grown to about 100 attorneys. As managing partner, Mr. Loeser either hired or helped pick dozens of new associates through the years.

“He was able to encourage people to play to their strengths,’’ Brown said. “He could really work with you as an individual, see your strengths, and draw them out.’’

Laurie Burt, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, was among those Mr. Loeser hired at Foley, Hoag.

“His style of mentoring was that he encouraged you not to follow him, but to take risks,’’ she said. “You really were encouraged to become your own lawyer; you owned your own persona as a lawyer. He encouraged you to be the absolute best you could be, but never lose your moral compass.’’

Mr. Loeser was 17 when his parents sent him to Stoatley Rough, a school for refugees outside London, where he met Herta Lewent. They fell in love and married seven years later in 1944, while he was serving in the US Army in Europe.

He initially served with what became known as “the Ritchie Boys,’’ a group of young Jews from Germany who trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland for intelligence work in the Army. Subsequently, he volunteered for the 82d Airborne Division and participated in the Battle of the Bulge and other battles. “Hans’s Story,’’ a memoir about his service, was published in 2007.

Though grateful for the opportunities afforded though immigration during wartime, Mr. Loeser was a staunch believer in the right to challenge the US government when he thought it had gone astray.

“Since the day I became a citizen in 1942, I have publicly argued with my government on issues of war, nuclear arms, and civil rights,’’ he said three years ago when he received the “Give Liberty a Hand’’ award from the Massachusetts Immigrant Refugee and Advocacy Coalition. “I have cherished the right to do so, as well as our fundamental values of fairness, equity, and justice.’’

In the 1960s, he helped found and lead the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association and more than a decade later helped found the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control.

The former role led Mr. Loeser to encourage Foley, Hoag on a pro bono basis to become cocounsel with the organization to represent plaintiffs in the Boston school desegregation case. When the firm was awarded fees for its work, it created the Foley Hoag Foundation about 30 years ago, and has handed out about $1.5 million in grants to organizations focusing on improving race relations.

“Hans was a voice of reason that people trusted and relied upon,’’ said Barry B. White, a former Foley, Hoag colleague who is now US ambassador to Norway.

“He was the consummate lawyer, who set an example for everyone in our profession. It is no accident that so many that he brought into Foley, Hoag went on to outstanding careers in public service. He taught me the need to participate and give back to your community and to never be afraid to speak your mind and to take up unpopular causes.’’

Said Burt: “He knew from personal experience how important access to equal opportunity was, and he fought for it. I think he really exemplified the best of what a private lawyer can and should be.’’

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Loeser leaves two sons, Harris of San Francisco and Tom of Madison, Wis.; a sister, Elisabeth Fontana of Tel Aviv; and eight grandchildren.

A private service will be held today. Burial will be in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.