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Obituary: William A. Nitze

William A. Nitze
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William A. Nitze

September 27, 1942 – July 30, 2021

William A. Nitze, of Washington, D.C., died on Friday, July 30, in Monte Rio, California. He was 78.

Among his friends, Bill was known for the range of his commitments; for the joy he derived from history, philosophy, and literature; and for his infectious good humor. He knew that neither he nor humankind were perfectible, but he had a lifelong commitment to learning, always in the hope of personal and social progress. In the last decade of his life, he took pleasure in teaching at George Mason University’s Krasnow Institute, where he was a trustee, co-leading courses about recent developments in artificial intelligence. He was an evangelist for the risks of continued damage to our climate and natural environment, and supported entrepreneurs seeking to mitigate that damage.


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Bill was born in New York on September 27, 1942, to Phyllis (Pratt) and Paul Henry Nitze, an architect of Cold War defense policy, arms control negotiator, and presidential advisor to administrations spanning those of Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. Bill was the great grandson of Charles Pratt, a co-founder of Standard Oil, antagonist-turned-partner of J.D. Rockefeller Sr., and founder of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He was the grandson of Ruth Baker Pratt, the first woman elected to Congress from the State of New York.

After graduating from Harvard College and obtaining a J.D. from Harvard Law School, he began his career as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP. He later worked for the Mobil Oil Company, where he was Assistant General Counsel, and later General Counsel for Mobil Oil Japan. He spent nearly five years living in Tokyo, Japan in the late 1970’s, a time when the American expatriate community was small and close-knit. He cherished the friendships he made in Japan, and revered Japanese culture.

Bill served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. From 1994 to 2001, he served as Assistant Administrator for International Activities at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He was president of the Alliance to Save Energy, where he promoted domestic energy efficiency via changes to residential and commercial building codes, as well as tax incentives (1990 to 1994). Prior to that, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment, Health and Natural Resources, where he led multilateral initiatives on trade in endangered species, ozone protocols, and fossil fuel emissions (1987 to 1990). He was forced to leave the Bush Administration by John Sununu, the President’s Chief of Staff, for public comments that were perceived to overstate the Bush Administration’s commitment to reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

He was inspired by his aunt and uncle, Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, who sought to create a venue for the arts and humanities in Aspen, CO in the post-war period. He was a student of Mortimer Adler and other professors from the University of Chicago, who made a second home in Aspen in the 1960’s and 70’s, and who inspired a love of Greek philosophy and tragedy. He later served on the board of directors of the Aspen Skiing Company and as a longtime trustee of the Aspen Institute.

In recent decades, Bill served as chairman of Oceana Energy Company, a company that develops new hydrokinetic technology to convert tidal energy into electricity; and Clear Path Technologies, Inc., a company that designs and builds neutron-based systems for detecting and identifying explosives and other dangerous substances in sealed containers. He was also the co-founder of GridPoint, Inc., a company that develops and markets intelligent energy management systems for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.

In 1971, Bill married Ann Kendall Richards under a green-and-white striped tent in South Bend, Indiana, surrounded by friends, family, and dozens of species of trees that were cultivated by his father-in-law. She survives him, as do their two sons: Paul Nitze (Jane Kucera) of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; and Charles Nitze (Marina Martin) of Seattle, Washington; and three grandchildren. He is also survived by his three siblings: Peter Nitze and Heidi Nitze, both of New York City; and Anina Nitze Moriarty of Chestnut Hill.

A fund has been set up in Bill’s memory at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), to fund environmental scholarships. If they wish, friends of Bill may send a donation in his name to ACES in lieu of flowers.


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