Law School Profile: Some Enchanted Evening [GW Magazine]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
THE GUEST LIST READ LIKE a Who’s Who of Washington. Last December, everyone from now ex-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to Miss America Heather Whitestone to talk-show host Larry King attended Jack and Lovell Olender’s annual holiday party.
The prominent lawyers, politicians, business leaders and other celebrities in black tie hadn’t gathered at the Kennedy Center’s rooftop ballroom merely for the gourmet food and open bar. They wanted to applaud the winners of the Jack and Lovell Olender Foundation awards.
For nearly a decade the party has doubled as an awards ceremony, as the Olenders have honored worthy people and causes with scholarships and cash gifts worth up to $20,000 each. The host and hostess say it’s their way of giving something back to the city that has given them so much.
In 1994, the America’s Role Model Award went to Whitestone, the Peacemaker Award to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and the Generous Heart Award to the now deceased Washington attorney Robert Cadeaux. Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The foundation was formally established in 1988. Its name reflects the fact that the most important person in Olender’s life is his wife of 32 years, Lovell, who helps him choose the award recipients. The two met at a dinner party just a few months after Olender got to D.C. in the early 1960s. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
“She is a part of my success,” says Olender. “When I first opened an office in the early 60s, she worked as a secretary and at night she would do my typing. She helped me develop my practice. Her job paid the rent.”
Several of GW’s leaders were on hand for the December celebration, including National Law Center’s Dean Jack Friedenthal. “Jack’s parties are like nothing you have ever seen. They’re a great way to thank people in the community for what they have done.”
Besides the $20,000 grants to Whitestone, Nader and Cadeaux, the foundation gave sizeable scholarships to six Howard University law students. The law students got to keep the money. The other award winners kept a plaque, but donated their grants to charities of their choice.
The beneficent even started as an office party about 25 years ago. “It just got bigger and bigger over the years,” Olender says. “Now there are 500 to 800 people in attendance.”
The award presentation goes back to 1981 when Olender began giving grants to law students in memory of his friend and mentor Earl Davis. “Earl was a great trial lawyer,” says Olender. “I thought it would be nice to memorialize him by giving a financial award in his name to a law student who was studying to be a trial lawyer.”
In 1986 the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded. Olender heard that a doctor from California, Robert Gale, had gone to the Soviet Union to treat children suffering from radiation poisoning. “That act showed a lot of peaceful activity toward the Russians,” Olender says, “and it gave me the idea to create the Peacemaker Award.”
He took the name for the award from a Colman McCarthy column in The Washington Post. McCarthy said “that I was a peacemaker in trying to use malpractice law suits to wipe out malpractice,” Olender recalls. “That, along with what Dr. Gale did, inspired me, as do all of the people who receive the awards.”