Ambassador Charles T. Manatt (’58 rural sociology) committed his life to serving his country and promoting the causes of justice, philanthropy, and education. He passed away on July 22, 2011, at the age of 75.
Over a storied 50-year career, Charles T. Manatt mastered the business of politics and the politics of business. He was known throughout legal, business, political and civic circles as a visionary leader.
In addition to co-founding the prominent national law firm that bears his name, Manatt served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1981 to 1985 and as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 1999 to 2001, as well as on numerous corporate, educational and civic boards. He served as co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Chuck Manatt,” said former President Clinton. “We were friends for 30 years, and I saw firsthand how he used his energy, intellect, and common sense to help restore the Democratic Party after 1980, to make America more prosperous and just, and to make friends for our nation around the world. He and his Republican counterpart, Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, brought the promise of the National Endowment for Democracy to life, with its Democratic and Republican institutes supporting free and fair elections around the world, just as the communist systems were beginning to collapse. I was also very proud of his service as ambassador to the Dominican Republic during my second term. Hillary and I will always be grateful for his support and friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kathy, Michele, Timothy, Daniel, and his grandchildren.”
As DNC chairman, Manatt was known for helping usher in the modern era in Democratic campaigns and for his bipartisan approach. As ambassador, he advocated for the DR-CAFTA trade agreement between the United States and the Caribbean and Central American countries and achieved progress on several bilateral issues. Dominican President Hipolito Mejia and Foreign Minister Hugo Tolentino Dipp awarded him the Medal of Duarte, Sánchez y Melia, that country’s highest diplomatic honor.
While Mr. Manatt was widely respected and admired on a professional level, his closest clients, colleagues, friends and family knew him simply as “Chuck,” a man of good humor, honesty and honor. Above and beyond his business, legal and political accomplishments, Manatt was a loving husband, father of three and grandfather of three.
An attorney who earned his J.D. from George Washington University in 1962, Manatt was the founder of the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP. The firm started out specializing in legal services for the banking community but today has grown to offer international legal and consulting services for a variety of industries in 10 locations, including California; New York; Washington, D.C.; Mexico; and Brazil.
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP employs more than 350 attorneys and consultants and is ranked among the largest law firms in the country by The American Lawyer. Founded on a banking and financial services platform, the firm has grown to represent a sophisticated client base – including Fortune 500, middle-market and emerging companies – across a full range of practice areas and industry sectors.
Manatt was born in Chicago on June 9, 1936, to Price Manatt and Lucille Taylor Manatt. In 1942, the family moved to western Iowa where Price farmed and Lucille taught elementary school. Both greatly influenced their son’s work ethic, integrity and commitment to education and community. As a school boy, Manatt was active in the Future Farmers of America and the Boy Scouts of America, becoming the first Eagle Scout in Audubon, Iowa. He was also drawn to political activism at a young age, starting with the Iowa Young Democrats.
Manatt met his future wife, Kathleen Klinkefus, in elementary school and began dating in high school. They both went on to study at Iowa State University and married on December 29, 1957. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2007 with celebrations in Iowa and Washington, D.C.
Following military service in the Army JAG Corps, they moved to Washington, D.C., where Manatt studied law at The George Washington University, and received his J.D. in 1962. During his law school studies, while his wife Kathy worked as a teacher in the Maryland public schools, he also worked as director of the College Young Democrats, campaigning for the John F. Kennedy campaign and leading Young Democrat activities on behalf of the Civil Rights Act and the founding of the Peace Corps.
The other major partnership in Manatt’s life began in 1965. While living in Los Angeles, he founded the Manatt Phelps law firm with his longtime friend and colleague Thomas Phelps, a banking and finance attorney Manatt met first when they were both students at Iowa State. L. Lee Phillips, an entertainment lawyer, joined the firm in 1977 and later became a named partner.
“Already in those early days, it was clear that Chuck was an energetic and creative lawyer, a prodigious worker and a forceful leader,” said Phelps. “But beyond the professional, he had a real passion for community service, organization politics, and, more than anything else, his family. He had a remarkable impact on all those fortunate enough to have known him, and I am grateful to have called him my partner and my friend for nearly 50 years.”
Manatt also partnered with former Oklahoma Congressman and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones to co-found Manatt Jones Global Strategies, a consulting subsidiary that utilizes the firm’s U.S. offices and includes offices in Mexico City and São Paulo.
In 1969, Manatt was elected Chairman of the California Democratic Party. During the Carter Administration, he served as Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
In February 1981, he was elected Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, leading the construction of the Democratic National Headquarters building on Capitol Hill and the modernization of its operation including computerization of its IT and direct mail systems. He structured and oversaw the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco that nominated Walter Mondale for president. He gave New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro increased visibility by selecting her as chair of the Platform Committee. She was then chosen by Mondale as his vice presidential running mate. This historic event marked the first time a woman became the vice presidential nominee of a major political party in the United States.
For over a quarter of a century, Manatt was a member of The George Washington University Board of Trustees (1980 to 2008), which he led as chairman from 2001 to 2007. During his tenure, he shaped numerous initiatives supporting GW’s long-term strategic planning, making it the first university in the nation’s capital to reach a $1-billion endowment. Maintaining a lifelong commitment to education, Mr. and Mrs. Manatt established the Manatt Democracy Fellowship Studies Program in 1998 at their alma mater Iowa State University, awarding annual scholarships to two ISU graduate students to conduct research in democracy-building. They also endowed the Charles and Kathleen Manatt Democracy Fellowship at the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to election assistance and democracy promotion, which Manatt chaired from 1993 to 1999.
He served on the boards of the Mayo Foundation, the National Museum of American History, the Wesley Foundation, the National Legal Center for the Public Interest and the National Endowment for Democracy. In the business sector, he was the founding chair of First Los Angeles Bank, was elected chair of the California Bankers Association, served on the board of directors of FedEx Corp., and was a member of the board of directors of Oak Value Management, Inc.
Throughout his career, Manatt never forgot his native Iowa. Beginning in the late 1960s, Manatt began investing in farmland with his father, including farms that had been in the family since the 1880s.