Marion Fremont-Smith, a Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and longtime member of the CPL community, passed away on December 30, 2021 at the age of 95. A legal trailblazer who specialized in tax and nonprofit law, Marion is remembered here by close colleagues and friends.
300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University; Dean of Harvard Law School (2009-2017)
Marion was rightly known as the "dean of the nonprofit law bar" as she knew all about and indeed helped to craft the laws governing nonprofit hospitals, organizations, foundations-- the vital sector of civil society. I was lucky enough to know the person behind her profound expertise: the kind, generous, strong, sparkling, and thoughtful human being. A pioneering woman lawyer and public servant, she mentored and connected people with zest and her legacies continue in her scholarship, in the organizations she advised, and in the generations of lawyer-leaders she taught and inspired.
Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall (ret.)
Senior Counsel, Choate Hall & Stewart, LLP
Marion was a brilliant lawyer, recognized nationally and internationally. And yet she graduated from law school in 1951, joining a small cadre of women lawyers each of whom faced extraordinary professional obstacles because of the deep-seated gender bias they encountered. (It irked her when asked why she had not attended Harvard, with which her family had deep associations. The Law School, of course, would not have her: at the time it refused to admit all women.) Undaunted, Marion set out to make her own career, vaulting every barrier she encountered. She started in government, a typical landing spot for women lawyers at the time, before she moved to private practice when, little by little, women began to be employed by large firms, but not as partners. That did not stop her. Twenty years after her graduation from law school, Marion was elected an equity partner at Choate Hall & Stewart LLP, one of the very first women partners in a large Boston firm.
Although we practiced in very different areas, at Choate she became an important mentor to me, and a treasured friend. I learned much from Marion: she was smart and insightful, a superb strategist with demanding standards (she was an excellent tennis player, one who took no prisoners). And she was generous, inclusive, helpful, and elegant in every way. Dropping by her office at the end of the day became a regular routine for me. Marion had wisdom to dispense; she made me a better lawyer.
Much will be written about her successes during her Choate years as she emerged as a national leader of both tax-exempt organizations and of estate and trust law. Among others, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Exempt Organizations, a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a member of the American Law Institute, and a member of The International Academy of Estate and Trust Law.
At age 78 Marion retired from Choate in 2004 under the firm’s retirement policy. Marion was not finished. She loved the law, she loved teaching and mentoring young lawyers, she loved suggesting paths to explore and ambitions to fashion and she still wanted to improve the law. So once again she made a new professional career for herself. In addition to her work as a senior research fellow at the Hauser Center, she served as a Lecturer at Harvard Law School (2007 to 2011), authored a new and widely acclaimed book on non-profit governance and then served as the Co-Reporter (and later Consultant) for the American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law, Charitable Nonprofit Organizations, an extremely demanding position. Marion was 94 when it was published. It is widely regarded as the definitive statement on the subject. She died a year later, her mind as sharp as a tack, welcoming friends and colleagues to her home (consistent with COVID), and as elegant as always. Hers was a professional career few can match.
Alex S. Jones
Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy (2000-2015)
Marion was my cherished friend for more than twenty years, and I shall write of her as that beloved person I came to know. Her professional achievements were many and remarkable, but others are better qualified to honor those. It was the Marion I knew who I wish to celebrate.
I came to the Kennedy School to become director of the Shorenstein Center in 2000, soon after Marion became a widow. She had been deeply in love with her husband, Paul, a celebrated doctor. The shared eight children – three of hers and five of his – and I came to realize that she was a devoted mother to all of them. And they were devoted to her.
My wife was a professor at Duke, so both Marion and I were a bit at loose ends. We met through a mutual friend, and immediately became boon companions, doing things that are far more fun as a twosome than alone – like movies, opera, symphony, plays. And dinner together. Marion’s drink was Bacardi rum and soda and her usual choice from the menu was steak, very rare.
In those two decades of friendship, we came to know and depend on each other. She was, of course, always deeply engrossed in an intellectual project relating to her status as a world authority on non-profit governance. But she was just as consumed with her many children and grandchildren, attending endless sporting and other events and keeping up with every aspect of their lives. I think they quite adored her, and trusted her to be their support and advocate.
There were difficult things to endure. None more shattering than the death of her stepson Christopher and then of her son Keith. But her nature was to be positive. She was determined to see the positive, and at the same time was endlessly empathetic with those who sought her help. In fact, she rarely offered advice. She listened. Closely. And was on your side. Always. But she rarely complained about her own problems, and was relentlessly focused on the future. Get on with work and life. Without saying so explicitly, that was always her advice and what she, without bravado, did herself.
Several years ago, she was diagnosed as having an aneurism that could kill her at any time. Her response to that was to book a trip for a safari to Burundi with her Wellesley classmate and close friend, Nancy Bishop. That was Marion.
Her son Brad told me that she had had a lovely Christmas at his home, surrounded by family. She was engaged and cheerful. At one point, she peppered a grandchild with questions about bitcoin. That was very Marion. On December 30, she was found by her caregiver in her bed, with a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt by her side. She deserved such a passing.