Northwestern trustee and former FCC chair Newton Minow dies at 97

Pavan Acharya, Print Managing Editor

Newton Minow (Communication ’49, Pritzker ’50), a Northwestern trustee and the Walter Annenberg Professor Emeritus, died Saturday at age 97.

Minow, who received the Northwestern Alumni Medal in 1978, joined the Board of Trustees in 1975 and became a life trustee in 1987.

“We mourn the loss of Newt, who was a beloved member of our Board for nearly five decades,” Peter Barris, chair of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, said in a University news release. “Not only do we appreciate his many contributions to his alma mater, but his efforts in public service and a vast array of civic causes will long be remembered and felt throughout our nation.”

After graduating from NU in 1950, Minow served as a law clerk for the then-Chief Justice of the United States, Fred Vinson. He also worked as assistant counsel for Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson and wrote the former presidential candidate a memo in 1955 suggesting the implementation of televised presidential debates. 

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy appointed Minow as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In 1961, as chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Minow called television a “vast wasteland” in a speech that is still referenced today.

During his tenure, Minow oversaw efforts leading to the creation of Comsat and Intelsat, two companies that helped create greater television program diversity.

“Newt Minow epitomized the very best of Northwestern University,” University President Michael Schill said in the release. “Words cannot do justice to his life of leadership, public service, prominence in the legal world and love and engagement with the University he so faithfully and lovingly served for decades.”

Minow left the FCC in 1963 and moved to Chicago to practice law. He served as a partner at the law firm Sidley & Austin from 1965 to 1991 and then became senior counsel.

Minow later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016, about 28 years after the alumnus recruited the former president to work at Sidley. Obama met his future wife, then Michelle Robinson, at the firm.

Minow received numerous awards for his legal work throughout his lifetime, including the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award and the American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award.

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