I, Publius | Remembering Robert Carswell


GREAT BARRINGTON >> Robert Carswell passed away on July 22 at his home in Great Barrington at the age of 89. He was one of the most important men in the country and led an exceptional life.

Among other things, he was a principal negotiator during the Iran Hostage Crisis, he worked for several presidents, and he represented the Secret Service in the investigation into the Kennedy assassination.

He did it all in his usual stoic, nondramatic way. He came by it naturally. His father was a top appellate judge as well as dean of the Brooklyn Law School.

Robert married a wonderful woman, Mary, who had a distinguished career of her own and who remains one of the best people I have ever known. His brother, Donald, was, for many years, one of the top men at NBC. In fact, he was a relative.

My first cousin, Lois, married Donald Carswell. Lois, too, was an extraordinary woman who, among many other accomplishments, was the chair of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. So that made me a relative by marriage to Donald and a sort of extended cousin to his brother, Robert, whom this column is about, and his wife, Mary. Over the years I met Mary, and as everyone else does, I fell in love with her because she is one of the kindest and most decent people I have ever known and that goes back a LOT of years.

In the very early 1960s, I went to Washington to work on my master's degree at American University. My mother told her friend, Mary Carswell, and Mary kindly invited me to dinner at their house. This was a period when Robert had taken leave from his law firm, Shearman and Sterling, to work in the Kennedy administration as a top official in the Treasury Department.

I arrived in the one shiny suit that I owned at their rented brownstone mansion (Mary says it wasn't a mansion.). So we sat down and there to my surprise was a woman who was to be my date. She was beautiful and attended a local junior college. She was at least two feet taller than I was, she rode horses and, to put it mildly, she was in a whole different league. It was also the last time I ever laid eyes on her. Well, things went from bad to worse because Mary served artichokes. I had never seen one before and certainly had no idea whatsoever about what to do with it. Mary kindly instructed me.

I remember that Robert was also very kind and asked me about my choice in music. I went on about Pete Seeger and, as I recall, we talked about Pete's politics. We may have disagreed about this subject but I remember him being very attentive and interested in what I had to say. I was impressed. He was Harvard all the way and I was Hunter College and American University but he never looked down on anyone. I suspect that was his genius as a negotiator.

Anyway, we always met the Carswells at all kinds of Berkshire functions and because of my insistence that I was related to them, Mary would always call me "cousin." We always smiled and laughed. It was great.

When my cousin Lois passed, we all went to the Botanic Garden for a memorial service and Roselle and I sat toward the middle of the room. Mary and Robert waved us up front and said, "You're a relative, you sit with the relatives." That was kindness.

You can measure people by their countenance. When you met up with Robert Carswell, he had a kind of a smile on his face which I took to mean, "You're OK."

I really liked that guy and will miss him. He lived among us here in the Berkshires but I'll bet most people didn't know it.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions