Sustaining the Wisconsin Experience

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WAA honors distinguished alumni at 74th annual awards program.

In April, five UW-Madison alumni received the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Awards, the highest honor bestowed by the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA).

A ceremony in the Wisconsin Union Theater featured videographies, remarks from the award winners, and a musical tribute by Redefined, the UW’s coed a cappella group, and was followed by a sustainable, locally sourced dinner in the Memorial Union’s Great Hall.

“Through sharing the lessons of their Wisconsin experience with the world, these alumni have made remarkable contributions,” says Paula Bonner MS’78, WAA’s president and CEO. “We’re proud to share their stories with UW alumni and friends.”

Leading Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Barnett and award- winning CBS News senior correspondent Rita Braver met while students on campus. They’ve been married thirty-eight years. Photo: Andy Manis.

Politics might be the underpinning of the life Robert Barnett ’68 and Rita Braver ’70 share together, though when it comes to their careers, they are decidedly undecided. The couple — he’s a multifaceted lawyer and she’s a CBS News correspondent — is committed to representing a variety of individuals and viewpoints to inform and entertain the nation.

They married in New Orleans in 1972 and moved to Washington, D.C., after Barnett was offered a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Byron R. White. That led to a spot on the Hill, working for U.S. Senator Walter Mondale — and to a lifelong interest in politics. Barnett has since worked on eight national presidential campaigns.

Braver joined CBS’s Washington bureau as a news desk editor, producing and reporting for shows such as CBS Evening News, 48 Hours, and Face the Nation. In 1983, she became the network’s law correspondent, and her coverage for CBS Evening News included controversial issues such as the Iran- Contra case, abortion, civil rights, and organized crime. As chief White House correspondent, she followed President Bill Clinton throughout the 1996 presidential campaign.

Now with CBS News Sunday Morning, Braver reports on topics ranging from arts and entertainment to politics and foreign policy. She’s earned five Emmy Awards, including two for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Barnett is currently a senior partner at the firm Williams & Connolly LLP. Although most of his practice involves representing corporations such as Toyota, McDonald’s, and Comcast, he is also one of the world’s top author representatives. Entertainment Weekly named him one of the 100 most powerful people in the entertainment business, and in 2004 he was ranked number one on Washingtonian Magazine’s list of “Washington’s Best Lawyers.”

“Every day is different and every day is a challenge. I never know who’s going to call next,” Barnett says. “I don’t know that I would love being a lawyer if I didn’t have the practice I have.”

Kay Oberly & Haynes Johnson

The judge and the journalist: associate judge Kathryn Oberly has argued fourteen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and her spouse, Haynes Johnson, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Photo: Andy Manis.

Married since 2002, Haynes Johnson MS’56 and Kathryn Oberly ’71, JD’73 each boast a resume of achievements that places them in Washington’s elite circles. Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of more than a dozen books, and frequent commentator on PBS’s News Hour. Oberly, a longtime litigator and former vice chair and general counsel of the accounting firm of Ernst and Young, is an associate judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

After graduation, Johnson became a reporter, first in Wilmington, Delaware, and then in Washington, D.C., where he wrote for the Washington Star and later the Washington Post. While at the Star, he covered the burgeoning civil rights movement, often traveling to Selma, Alabama, to provide coverage that earned him the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

After earning her JD, Oberly spent a year clerking for Judge Donald Lay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Then she accepted a position as a litigator with the Department of Justice, where she became the youngest woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1986, Oberly left the Department of Justice to go into private practice, first as an appellate litigator for the firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt, and then, in 1991, to the Ernst and Young position. In January 2009, President George W. Bush appointed Oberly to a vacancy on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

“It’s the variety that appeals to me,” she says. “My court’s docket covers just about every conceivable kind of case. The one common thread is that every case involves thinking on a high level about legal issues, knowing that the decisions you reach matter to real people. And every day in court is a good day for the judge.”

Arnold Weiss holds a photo of his birth family in Germany. The rise of the Nazis left him an orphan. Photo: Jerome De Perlinghi

The destruction of World War II gave Arnold Weiss ’51, LLB’53 a passion to build, beginning an odyssey that has taken him from Jewish orphan in Nazi Germany to retired counsel for an international investment-banking firm.

In 1942, Weiss enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, beginning a military career first as an instrument technician and B-17 gunner and ending as an intelligence officer responsible for bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

In 1945, Weiss and a British officer were summoned by the Allied Supreme Headquarters to lead a group in pursuit of the evidence of the death of Adolf Hitler, and their efforts soon resulted in the capture and arrest of SS general Wilhelm Zander. Weiss’s interrogations led him to the last will and political testament of Adolf Hitler and the marriage certificate of Hitler and Eva Braun, as well as the last will of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Weiss was honored with the Army Commendation Medal for his important discoveries.

After graduation, Weiss went to work for the U.S. Treasury as general counsel to the Office of International Finance and led efforts with the newly formed International Monetary Fund and World Bank. When the Inter-American Development Bank formed in 1959, Weiss was selected as part of the U.S. delegation to help the bank get started. He developed its charter and oversaw operations in agriculture, industry, energy, transportation, public health, education, and urban development.

In 1992, he assisted in the creation of Emerging Markets Partnership (EMP), an investment-banking house dedicated to making equity investments in infrastructure in developing countries. Its investment operations span the globe and aid in the creation of agribusiness, power and water, telecommunication, transportation, and other industries.

“I think it’s the war that changed me more than anything else,” Weiss says. “I decided I wanted to build rather than destroy. In Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany … there was so much destruction. I knew there was a better way of doing things.”

For more information about the recipients and videos of the ceremony, visit uwalumni.com/daa.

Published in the Summer 2010 issue

Tags: Alumni

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