Blog: Henigson Fellowships

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March 26, 2014

Tribute: Robert Henigson, JD ’55, Strong Supporter of Human Rights Work at HLS

(This tribute was written by Henry Steiner: founder of the Human Rights Program in 1984 and its director for 21 years; Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law Emeritus)

Robert Henigson, my cousin and lifelong close friend, died on January 28 this year. We were classmates at Harvard Law School. After our graduation in 1955, HLS continued to figure in both our lives. I spent my academic career here. In a different environment and career, Bob’s activities linked him as well to this school.

I refer to the reach of his extensive philanthropy to HLS and its Human Rights Program. Bob became a leading supporter of our work in this field. His gifts enabled HRP to open fruitful paths toward its growth, while also contributing to the breadth of the school’s faculty and curriculum.

A man in his middle ages smiles at the camera. He wears a white button-down shirt and a tie and large square glasses.
Philanthropist Bob Henigson, JD ’55, a strong supporter of the Human Rights Program.

Bob practiced law at the Los Angeles firm of Lawler, Felix, and Hall, where he became a prominent lawyer and managing partner. He came to know people organizing a number of start-up companies, some related to scientific invention (Bob held two degrees from Caltech), that piqued his interest. His long-term investments in a few of them led to enduring relationships by Bob’s serving as their adviser, director or board chairman. In his last, seriously ailing years when travel was onerous, Bob’s joining meetings by phone had to do the job. Those years also brought to an end the hyperactive outdoor life that he and his wife Phyllis had relished – skiing, running, biking, hiking.

As his career in practice wound down, Bob’s attention to public-interest issues absorbed ever greater time, to the point where philanthropy trumped other ongoing activities during the post-retirement decades. His social, cultural and political concerns retained their earlier vitality. Bob found outlets or expression for them in a variety of philanthropic ventures. Some responded to liberal commitments to domestic civil liberties as well as to his liberal internationalism embracing the human rights movement. Other ventures assisted early education for the less well off or university centers; aided cultural institutions like orchestras and theatres; and strengthened organizations protecting against the spoiling of the natural world. At the same time, Bob worked closely with community leaders to advance the welfare of the local community on Orcas Island where he and Phyllis retired.

In my view, two innovations in human rights education stemming from Bob and Phyllis’s ongoing gifts to the school top the list of what those gifts made (or will make) possible. The first in time, the endowed Henigson Human Rights Fellowships that HRP administers, are available principally to graduating J.D. and LL.M. students who have demonstrated their commitment to human rights and their interest in building that field into their careers. Those students selected for fellowships actively participate for about a year in the work of a human rights NGO designated by them within a developing country. Stipends are in the neighborhood of $27,000. Recent comments (see below, directly following this tribute) from several of the 35 Henigson Fellows over the last 13 years describe ways how their experiences bore on their later, ongoing human rights work. These experiences were gained in such countries as Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India and Uganda.

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