Lawyer Lenny: Here’s what public service is all about

The General Services Administration is 70 years old. Deputy General Counsel Lennard Loewentritt served nearly 50 of those years. Lenny, as he was known to friends, was laid to rest yesterday after a cancer battle.

Loewentritt joined GSA in early 1972, while wrapping up his law degree at American University. GSA was the only place he would work. Throughout his career, he was named acting general counsel for various periods until whomever was president would appoint someone for the top legal job.

Among his assets: a wonderful sense of humor. I knew Lenny as a fellow member of my synagogue. Often after Friday night services, I’d ask him, “How’s [Roger, Dave, Steve, Lurita, Martha, Dan, Em etc.]?” referring to whomever was administrator. He never actually gave me any juicy tidbits, but we always had a chuckle over the latest travails or scandalette of the agency. Lenny was devoted to GSA and glad to represent the agency regardless of who was at the top, or who the appointed General Counsel happened to be. In fact, he garnered the respect of successive general counsels.

I imagine that resiliency, focusing on the job and tuning out the noise, opting out of politics, made for both a long career and much love and respect from within the agency.

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“He was everything you want in a civil servant,” former Acting GSA Administrator Jim Williams said. Williams, who retired in 2009, told me he would stop by Lenny’s office on every subsequent visit until Lenny took sick leave. Williams, a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, gave Lenny a Yankees sweatshirt.

Loewentritt was also a meticulous lawyer, doing the right thing even when/if it put him — unwillingly on his part — in the spotlight. Such as releasing to the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation certain emails and documents Trump appointees had sent during the transition of administrations, before taking office. The appointees had signed agreements that their emails would be public records. Lenny believed the request was legally valid and GSA simply had to do what it was legally obligated to do.

Luckily, you can get a good sense of Lenny from an interview Federal News Network’s Jason Miller did a year ago as part of our look at GSA at 70. Also on that interview, Mary Davie, another long time GSAer, at the time director of the New Pay Quality Service Management office.

Davie, now a deputy associate administrator at NASA, called Loewentritt an institution, and added that’s how many at GSA viewed him. “He was passionate, committed, and he loved the agency, the people in it and its role,” Davie said. She said Lenny could be a stickler, by-the-books lawyer in a meeting, and then return to his informal, quick-to-laugh side in the hallway afterwards.

“He was a constant, consistent voice — unwavering on what was right and legal,” Davie said. “I can’t imagine GSA without him.”

As the wizard said to the Tin Man, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” By that measure, Lenny had a very large heart indeed. I can tell you on the personal side that Lenny was a consummate family man. In fact he and his wife Anne would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on the day he was laid to rest.

At the end of his life, Lenny received treatment at the National Institutes of Health. By all accounts he would balance his PC on his lap and peck away on GSA business even while undergoing difficult treatment. When I spoke with him briefly about a month ago, Lenny praised the quality of the medical treatment and general care from the NIH.

Lenny Loewentritt garbed in his beloved New York Yankees gear. (Photo courtesy of Jim Williams)

NIH draws people from all over the world, as a provider of last resort. Often people at NIH have, unlike Lenny, traveled from far away, and their families may lack the resources to properly take care of themselves while a loved one is at one of the institutes. Friends of Patients at the NIH helps such families with housing and transportation.

It relies on donations. That’s why half the proceeds from my Motorcycle Ride for Charity are going to Friends of Patients at the NIH. The other half will head to the Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund. FEEA helps feds in financial straits with loans, grants and scholarships. Having known Lenny Loewentritt personally and as an exemplary public servant, I am further dedicating the event to his memory.

If you ride, come join us. If you know any riders, encourage them to check it out. If neither of the above, please consider a donation.