Monday, June 16, 2008


On Thursday June 12th Stewart R. Mott died.

I first met him in the late 1960s. The Oram Group served several clients in or on the periphery of peace and disarmament, family planning and civil rights - the prime motivators of Stewart's philanthropy. In those heady days the firm also did political work. I got to know Stewart over time and especially during Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign when we spent time together. In 1968 or 1969 Harold L. Oram tried - for the first time - to sell the business - to Stewart and another peace activist Robert Wallace Gilmore. That bid failed for various reasons, the asking price foremost.

Our relationship continued through the clients we served - the McGovern campaign, other political campaigns that caught Stewart's eye and wallet, and of course the ongoing interests of Spectemer Agendo - Stewart's foundation now known as the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust.

In 1976 Harold Oram was a sick man. For the second time (that I knew about) he decided to put the company on the block. I owned 18% of Oram's stock and by refusing to surrender it was able to control to whom the company might be flogged. Harold was not pleased to say the least but it enabled me to block a buyer of whom I did not approve and for whom I would not work. Finally Harold said out of frustration "all right go to Mott and Gilmore" which I had wanted to do right along but only if a reasonable price could be struck with him.

I went to Stewart and Robert and asked them to back me in purchasing the firm. Both of them knew the firm well, they knew me, and they were interested because we were one of the very few firms in this niche industry serving the progressive causes and politicians to which they were committed. Without a lot of fuss they agreed and for the next year we negotiated with Harold. His need to sell was at war with his love for the outstanding firm he had created and like virtually all founders he doubted in his heart that anyone else could carry on.

Stewart was one of the smartest people I have ever met; he was a polymath and especially his ability to crunch lots of numbers in his head at bullet speed was scary. Having had his own difficulties with a parent Stewart dutifully analyzed Harold and figured out that what he really wanted wasn't money but the security he thought the money would bring; Harold wanted an income for life that did not rest solely on the company's ability to generate it. It was Stewart who came up with the creative financing that finally brought Harold around and my lawyer figured out the rest of it. In 1978 we closed on the sale and Stewart and Robert joined the board (along with their respective financial advisors) and there they remained until a company reorganization in 1992.

Stewart rode around New York in all weather on a motorized scooter and one raw rainy day he showed up for an initial board meeting. The receptionist buzzed me in the conference room to announce that "the messenger is here." There indeed was the "messenger" - Stewart in oilskins, messenger bag slung over his shoulder, absolutely dripping,late as usual but ready to work.

We had become friends before we became business colleagues. Friendship mattered to him. For many years my wife and I tossed a New Year's day party that Stewart faithfully attended always in his kilts, with several ounces of his top notch pot in the spoorn.

As I wrote in 2001 for a speech about my career at Oram:

"Stewart Mott, whose fortune came from General Motors, was brilliant, erratic, always true to his principles, and the family outcast. He was a libertarian marijuana grower -- in his Park Avenue penthouse -- devotee of Renaissance music, unpretentious but definitely odd. For example, he generally received any and all in his skivvies. When he wasn’t doing pot, he smoked an exotic brand of Egyptian tobacco that smelled like burning rubber and swamp gas, combined. Despite considerable wealth in the coinage of the time, and of course everybody was after it, Stewart was for a long time the Most Eligible Man in New York Never to Get A Second Date With the Same Woman. His courting style was truly pathetic. But no matter. The ladies came in hope, and left in tears. Feminine raiment accessorized his bachelor lodgings."

Harold Oram is gone.
Robert Gilmore is gone.
Stewart Mott is gone.