von MEHREN--Robert B.,
The last surviving lawyer in the infamous Alger Hiss trials of the late 1940s, died Thursday at his home in Manhattan from congestive heart failure, according to his wife, Susan Heller Anderson, a writer and former reporter for The New York Times. Mr. von Mehren was 93. As a young lawyer for the firm that is now Debevoise & Plimpton, Mr. von Mehren served on the defense counsel team representing Mr. Hiss, a highly regarded former government official, during his two trials for perjury in 1949 and 1950. Mr. Hiss, then president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was told in August, 1948, that Whittaker Chambers, an editor at Time magazine, had testified before the Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives and had accused Hiss of being a spy for the Soviet Union while working for the U.S. government. Newspapers labeled the proceedings "the trial of the century." Richard M. Nixon subsequently became nationally famous for his pursuit of Communists, specially Mr. Hiss, and 20 years later, in 1968, was elected president. He revealed later, in the Watergate tapes, that he had mounted a systematic campaign of leaking information that would turn opinion against Hiss. Among the many positions Mr. von Mehren held outside the law firm were legal counsel to the Preparatory Commission of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which composed the guidelines for the United Nations' agency that exist today; consultant to the Rand Corporation on disarmament; consultant to the Hudson Institute on international law, and senior lecturer in law at the Wharton School. An active proselytizer of arbitration, Mr. von Mehren taught and lectured all over the world. He pioneered international arbitration among American lawyers, serving in more than four dozen arbitrations after he "retired" from Debevoise. His pro bono positions included chairman, vice chairman and/or president of the International Law Association, the Practicing Law Institute, the American branch of the International Law Association, several committees of the City Bar Association of New York and the Harvard Law School Association of New York. He was an honorary member of the Commercial Bar of London and the Singapore Bar. He was also on the board of the American Arbitration Association; a fellow of the American Bar Foundation; the vice-president emeritis of the Axe-Hougton Foundation, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Century Association and the University Club. Born in Albert Lea, Minn., he won a national scholarship to Yale University, from whence he graduated summa cum laude, then magna cum laude from the Harvard Law School, where he served as president of its Law Review. Upon graduation he became associated with Debevoise, where he spent most of his career until he became an international arbitrator. He clerked for Judge Learned Hand at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Stanley F. Reed. An avid sailor, Mr. von Mehren raced his beloved Mariner Phalarope, on Martha's Vineyard, where he owned a home that he bought from James Cagney in 1957. In addition to his wife, Mr von Mehren is survived by his loving children: a son, Carl; three daughters, Katharine, Jane and Margaret, and Philip D. Anderson, his stepson. He was predeceased by his first wife, Mary Katharine; his younger son, John, and his identical twin, Arthur T. von Mehren. A celebration of his life is to be held in the fall in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made in his name to the Sherriff's Meadow Foundation, 57 David Ave., Vineyard Haven MA 02568. The family will receive friends at their Manhattan apartment 4pm-8pm on Sunday, May 8, and 6pm-8pm on Monday, May 9.
Published in New York Times on May 7, 2016.