In Memoriam: Lowell Sachnoff

By John Pope | March 24, 2023

Annual Dinner honorees Austin Hirsch (left) and Lowell Sachnoff (center), honorees at the 2019 Annual Dinner and Meeting, are joined by John Balkcom (right), then chair of the Bulletin Governing Board.

Longtime Bulletin supporter and board member, Lowell Sachnoff, died on March 21st.  

“A giant and a gentleman,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “Lowell was a steady and devoted friend of the Bulletin. We are better for his support and poorer in his absence.” 

Passing away at 92 years old, Lowell lived a long life of leadership and civic devotion. A veteran naval officer of the Korean War, Lowell became a founding member of Reed Smith Chicago’s legacy firm, Sachnoff & Weaver.  His practice focused on mediation and arbitration, and a wide range of pro bono work including the successful representation of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, their relocation to safe countries abroad, and protecting the civil rights of patients confined in state mental hospitals. He also had a passion for mentoring young lawyers that shaped generations of talent at his firm and elsewhere. That mentorship extended to the classroom where he served as a visiting lecturer on complex litigation and mental health law at the University of Chicago Law School, Northwestern University School of Law, and Chicago-Kent College of Law.  

A committed civic leader, Sachnoff actively supported organizations such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Chicago Foundation for Women and served on boards such as the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, The National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Lawyers Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control. It was his work at the Lawyers Alliance and the suggestion of a longtime friend and former vice chair of the Bulletin’s board, Marjorie Craig Benton, that brought him to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 

“Lowell was a persistent champion for a better community here in Chicago and a better world,” said Benton. “I knew his insight as a lawyer and careful judgement would be an invaluable asset to the Bulletin, and his many contributions to the organization and the mission in the years since proved that to be true.”  

He twice served multiple terms on the Bulletin’s board (2005-2014 and 2015-2020), offering wise counsel and wisdom throughout. He was instrumental in establishing the Bulletin’s relationship with Reed Smith, which has for years assisted the Bulletin with pro bono legal support. Of its many contributions, the firm helped negotiate the Bulletin’s publishing contracts and protect its intellectual property, including its globally recognized Doomsday Clock. Lowell helped craft the Bulletin’s bylaws, accept one of the Bulletin’s largest ever contributions, and attract new followers and supporters. In short, he helped shape all parts of the organization. 

Bulletin board member Steve Ramsey said. “Lowell was wise and intellectually vibrant. He was a lawyer’s lawyer when that was a good thing. He had impeccable judgment. But, most of all Lowell was a genuine, lovely person.”  

“Lowell Sachnoff was a remarkable and true friend to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,” said Kennette Benedict, the past publisher and executive director, and current senior advisor, of the Bulletin. “He was particularly wise in recruiting new board members with expertise in financial and legal matters. His generous spirit, good humor, and wise counsel helped lift the staff and board as we pursued our mission of informing the public about existential threats to the planet.  He is greatly missed.” Among the board members Lowell helped recruit were several Reed Smith colleagues such as past board member and treasurer Austin Hirsch, and current board members Michael Lee and Rob LoPrete.  

“As a mentor, Lowell challenged you to not just better yourself but to better your community,” said Hirsch. “I am thankful for the opportunity to have learned from and work with him at the firm, at the Bulletin, and so many other projects. Lowell’s memory will be a continuing inspiration for so many of us as friends and colleagues.” Hirsch, Sachnoff, and the Reed Smith firm were honored for their support of the Bulletin in 2019. In this video from the event, Lowell explains why he found his relationship with the Bulletin important.  

Lowell is survived by his wife Fay Clayton, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. His legacy lives on through them, his work at Reed Smith, the many young lawyers and others who he mentored, and the numerous charitable and civic organizations that he supported. During his final days, he was surrounded by his family, loved ones, and cupcakes. It was a life well lived. 

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