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Point to Robert Pennoyer’s accomplishments, and he will quickly point you to others who helped make things happen. The 81-year-old of counsel at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler has a record of service in private practice, public life, and pro bono that impresses friends and colleagues-if not Pennoyer himself. With an establishment pedigree as a grandson of J.P. Morgan and veteran of the Eisenhower administration, Pennoyer was a lifelong Republican until he decamped to the Democratic party in 2001 due to what he sees as a rightward shift among Republicans. Channeling his frustration into pro bono work, Pennoyer helped persuade his firm to draft amicus briefs in Hamdi v. Rumsfeldand Rumsfeld v. Padilla,a pair of U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with the rights of enemy combatants. Pennoyer says his passion for these cases comes in part from his concern for American soldiers who might fall into enemy hands: He was a Navy Reserve officer aboard the USS Pensacola in World War II during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. After the war, Pennoyer enrolled in law school at Columbia University. “Everybody in law school had some sort of experience with being in the military,” Pennoyer says. “The combined effect was to engender tremendous idealism and a sense that we wanted to have something to do with the role of the United States [in the world].” Graduating from law school in 1950, Pennoyer logged a couple of years in private practice at Davis Polk & Wardwell before moving to a post as an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the Southern District of New York for two-and-a-half years. During the Eisenhower administration, he was appointed assistant to the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense and special assistant to the assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs. In 1958 Pennoyer moved back to private practice, joining Patterson as an associate. He found his niche in the firm’s tax-exempt and trusts and estates practices and was the point person between the firm and the Rockefeller Foundation for about 20 years. In the late 1970s, Pennoyer helped the firm bring on Judge Harold Tyler, Jr., and transform from a 40-lawyer corporate shop to a national litigation player. Says partner Antonia Grumbach: “Bob was part of the glue that made it all work.” Pennoyer served as Patterson’s managing partner for several years in the late 1960s and chair of its management committee for about 15 years starting in the mid-1970s. Partners at the firm also credit Pennoyer with building a network of pro bono clients and a tradition of public service there. Pennoyer has sat on boards of myriad charitable and arts organizations; his current memberships include the boards of the Pierpont Morgan Library and the John Merck Fund, and he is a trustee emeritus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pennoyer recounts it all with humility. “It was always people around me doing great things. And they deserve the recognition, not me,” he says. We respectfully disagree. Back to Main Story

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