By Russ Bleemer
The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Dispute Resolution mourns the loss of Chairman Emeritus Charles B. Renfrew (pictured above), who died in San Francisco on Dec. 14 at age 89.
Renfrew had served nearly 15 years as board chairman when he stepped down from the post in 2011. He remained active with the organization and continued his longtime private practice focusing on mediation and arbitration, as well as corporate investigations.
He also had experience in a wide variety of specialized alternative dispute resolution processes, including early neutral evaluation and mini-trials, and acted as a special master.
“It is difficult to imagine a more impressive career than that of Charlie Renfrew,” said CPR President & CEO, Noah J. Hanft. “His commitment to public service was apparent to all who knew him, as was his commitment to the CPR Institute. CPR was indeed fortunate to have Charlie serve as its Chair for 15 years, and for far longer than that he was a clear and strong voice articulating the importance of CPR’s mission—continually seeking better ways to prevent and resolve disputes. Charlie was both a man of substance and a man of character with a warmth and kindness which was evident to all who knew him. I will never forget that he was the first person to reach out to me after I was named CEO and his warm, supportive messages from that day forward. Charlie was a true gentleman and we will all miss him.”
Renfrew’s ADR work began during a storybook legal career that included private practice, in-house corporate representation and advocacy, the federal judiciary, and the U.S. Justice Department, as well as social activism.
A veteran who served both in the U.S. Navy in World War II and in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, Renfrew began his legal career at San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in 1956, becoming partner a decade later.
He departed the firm when President Richard Nixon appointed him to the U.S. District Court in California’s Northern District in 1972, where he stayed until President Jimmy Carter appointed Renfrew Assistant Attorney General under Benjamin Civiletti in 1980.
But when Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan later the same year, Renfrew returned to Pillsbury. After a two-year stint, he became Vice President of Legal Affairs for Chevron Inc., where, in 1988, he joined CPR’s board in 1988.
In 1993, Renfrew returned again to private practice as a partner at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MaCrae after retiring from Chevron.
After four years, he opened the Law Offices of Charles B. Renfrew in San Francisco, which became the longest-running job in his career, focusing on alternative dispute resolution.
In addition to his work at CPR, Renfrew served on the boards of Princeton University, Claremont University Center, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Council for Civic Unity. He also served as a director at Chevron.
Renfrew was active in bar associations and taught at Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a BA from Princeton University, and from the University of Michigan Law School.
Renfrew was known for an unusual approach on the bench in the criminal cases he oversaw on the federal bench. After sentencing, the judge would follow up on the convict’s service, and occasionally would visit the institutions to check on their rehabilitation progress.
Renfrew notably ordered specific sentences for community service as part of the condition of offenders’ release, to encourage reflection by the convict, and lower the odds of recidivism. See Bob Egelko, “Charles Renfrew dies; Democrat appointed SF federal judge by Nixon,” San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 26)(available at http://bit.ly/2m0ZbI7), and Carol Spiezio, Charles Renfrew, Former Federal Judge, Dies at 89,” The Recorder (Dec. 19)(available at http://bit.ly/2CGt7jQ).
Throughout his career, Renfrew spoke and wrote often about his deep faith in the effectiveness of alternative dispute resolution, and his expectations for its continued growth. He frequently cited mediation and arbitration’s success as the core reason for his decades of work at the CPR Institute.
Renfrew was nearly evangelical at CPR meetings and in articles in his focus on developing ADR, and creating opportunities for its growth and improvement. During his years on the CPR board, he spearheaded the organization’s emphasis on international work, and measures to prevent conflicts, among numerous other conflict resolution efforts.
In a 2009 Alternatives article reflecting on CPR’s 30th anniversary, Renfrew, with his characteristic optimism about conflict resolution, and also characteristically looking ahead, concluded,
The future for the CPR Institute is promising, too, if we continue to build on our strengths and uniqueness. We must continue to involve the users of ADR services, not just be an organization of ADR providers. If CPR continues to be supported by those who recognize its unique role in the ADR movement, it will continue to flourish and perform the leadership role it has since its inception.
Renfrew is survived by his wife, Barbara Jones Renfrew, who often joined her husband at CPR Annual Meetings and events, as well as eight children, 21 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held in San Francisco on Jan. 6. The family suggested donations in his name to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he also served as a board member.
*Russ Bleemer is the editor of CPR’s award-winning magazine, Alternatives