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News Jul 26, 2016

In Memoriam: Former Senior Partner Robert Carswell

Robert Carswell, Senior Partner of the firm from 1985 - 1991, passed away on July 22, 2016 at his home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was 87.

Born in Brooklyn, NY on November 25, 1928, Mr. Carswell had a long and distinguished career at Shearman & Sterling, where he served corporate and financial services clients for more than 40 years, and under four US Presidents in the Treasury Department.

He joined Shearman & Sterling as an associate in 1952 and was promoted to partner in 1965.  Mr. Carswell was the Senior Partner from 1985-1991, became of counsel to the firm in 1993 and retired in 2014. 

Mr. Carswell served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1977-81 and was the principal government official responsible for the release of the Iranian hostages and the financial rescues of New York City and Chrysler Corporation.

Mr. Carswell attended Harvard College, graduating magna cum laude in 1949 with a major in government and economics. While attending Harvard, he was sports editor of The Harvard Crimson, the nation's oldest continuously published daily college newspaper; a member of Phi Beta Kappa; and a member of the varsity soccer team for three years. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1952 and worked for two months as an associate at Shearman & Sterling.

That same year, with the Korean War still in progress, Mr. Carswell left the firm to serve for three years as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer. He was stationed mainly in Japan as an agent in the Office of Naval Intelligence assigned to counter-intelligence matters.  He returned to Shearman & Sterling as an associate in 1956.

In 1962, Mr. Carswell joined the Kennedy Administration as Special Assistant to Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon.  In that capacity, he participated in many areas of the Treasury including tax and economic policy, law enforcement and as a liaison with Congress.  After the assassination of President Kennedy, he represented the Secret Service, which was then an agency of the Treasury Department, before the Warren Commission and as Executive Secretary of the inter-agency committee established by President Johnson to review presidential protection and recommend any appropriate changes.  In later years, he acted as a consultant on various protection issues, including as a member of the White House Security Review.

Mr. Carswell returned to Shearman & Sterling in 1965 and was elected partner that year.  His principal client was First National City Bank, now known as Citibank.  During the late 1970s and the 1980s, Mr. Carswell led the legal representation of the international banks steering committees which restructured the debts of Mexico, Brazil and many other developing countries.  Other clients included Graniteville Corporation and Georgia-Pacific; he also served as a director of both and of the American Stock Exchange, Private Export Funding Corporation and International Basic Economy Corporation.  He was Vice President and Treasurer of the Bar Association of the City of New York for eight years, and an Overseer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Mr. Carswell was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Treasury by President Carter in 1977 and served in that office under Secretaries Blumenthal and Miller until 1981.  He played a principal role in the successful completion of the financial rescue of New York City and the financial rescue of the Chrysler Corporation, as well as the release of the U.S. hostages in Iran as part of the settlement of US and foreign claims against Iran and the return of Iranian funds blocked by the United States.

After leaving the Treasury Department in 1981, Mr. Carswell was an adjunct professor for one term at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a lecturer at the school until 1984.

His non-legal activities included serving as Chairman of the Board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and of Private Export Funding Corporation, as well as commitments to many other organizations involved in legal, financial and diplomatic affairs.

Among his many important client representations, Mr. Carswell acted as attorney for Betsey Cushing Whitney, the widow of John Hay Whitney, and became co-executor of her estate when she died in 1998.  In that capacity or as director of the Greentree Foundation which Mrs. Whitney established, he sold many works of art at auction at Sotheby’s.  Several brought record prices, including Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” that sold for $104 million in 2004.

Mr. Carswell is survived by his wife, Mary Killeen Wilde, whom he married in 1957 and who has had a distinguished career in the non-profit sector, including 10 years as Executive Director of the MacDowell Colony.  In addition to his wife, Mr. Carswell is survived by his two children, Kate of Santa Fe, N.M. and Will of Hadley, Mass., and two grandsons, Asher and Finn.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial service will be held in New York at a later date.