By Claire Guthrie Gastañaga Executive Director
Freedom lost one of its most effective and passionate champions yesterday, Sept. 27, 2016.
Stew Dunn was a treasure to this affiliate and to all of us who had the privilege to have known and worked with him. He was a guiding spirit, lodestar and foundation for the Virginia affiliate of the ACLU since he was elected to our Board in 1991. There is so much one can say about him personally and professionally. None of the words would be adequate to convey how deep and profound is our loss. Stew understood the core essence of the ACLU’s principles like very few people – that an open and compassionate mind combined with a strong sense of the value of individual rights and opinion will yield the best result in most situations.
Here are some of the "facts" we collected about Stew in 2014 when we had a special party in his honor, hosted by fellow Board member Fay Slotnick and her husband, Jack, and attended by the ACLU national Board president, Susan Herman, with special comments offered through the magic of video by Anthony Romero.
- Stew was a devoted husband to Loti and the proud father of five children, Chris, Tim, Tony (deceased), Eliza and Rhett and loving grandfather of six.
- Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Stew graduated from Yale University in 1951 and from Harvard Law School in 1954, where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
- Stew worked with the law firm of Ivins, Phillips & Barker since 1957, where his practice covered most areas of tax law. In recent years, his practice concentrated on trusts and estates, an area in which he became a nationally recognized expert.
- Between 1970 and 1973, he se served as vice-chair of the American Bar Association’s Section on Taxation.
- He was a member of the American Bar Foundation, the American Law Institute, the American College of Tax Counsel and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. He served as a member of the U.S. Committee on the Selection of Federal Judicial Officers and as its chair from 1979 to 1981.
- Stew was a modest man, and a great example to all of us, both as an active philanthropist and a committed advocate for his community and his passions.
- He embodied the classical Greek idea of citizenship: "you must be actively involved in your own community."
- Despite his busy professional and personal life, Stew devoted himself to civil liberties causes throughout his career. When nominated for an Alexandria Living Legend award they said of Stew: “Of all the activities in which Stew participates, the one to which he is the most dedicated and which he regards as the most important is his service as a board member and policy maker for the area American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He regards the ACLU as the most conservative organization in the country, in part, because it is dedicated to the protection of the Constitution.”
- Stew was elected to the Board of the ACLU affiliate in 1991 and served as our Vice President from 2005 to 2015 and as our National Board Representative from 1996-2005. He also was a member of the board of directors of the ACLU of the National Capital Area for more than 30 years and served as its president from 1986-1988.
- Stew actively participated in deliberations that formulate ACLU policies and positions and served as the principal draftsman of the national board’s Special Committee on Racists Speech on Campus.
- Stew not only was active in the work of the ACLU, he was also deeply invested in matters concerning the city of Alexandria, which he calls home, where he has served in various leadership roles in the Old Town Civic Association, the Alexandria human Rights Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, and the Planning Commission.
- Stew was the model of a good active listener and always allowed for the opportunity to change his mind. He solicited your views, listened respectfully, responded, synthesized and reflected back. He had an extraordinary sense of when to speak to a subject to win over the most support.
- For example, he was a strong voice in the Virginia affiliate’s discussion of the proposals to reform the ACLU’s national governance, bringing to the conversation a depth of understanding few could duplicate based on his long experience in governance at the affiliate and national levels and a fierce commitment to preserving the proper balance between organizational efficiency and democratic consideration of issues of policy and principle.
I personally will miss Stew's wise counsel, the impish twinkle in his eye, his fierce commitment to what's right, and his sharp intellect. He was unique and irreplaceable in every good sense of both. Our affiliate will feel his absence in every discussion of substance whether about an issue or our finances. Condolence cards and letters addressed to the family may be sent c/o ACLU of Virginia, Suite 1412, 701 E. Franklin Street, Richmond, Va. 23219.