Reuben Buck Robertson III


Died January 4, 2000

College: Timothy Dwight

Widow: Mrs. Victoria Robertson
2614 31st Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20008-3519
202-333-4516 (Fax)
202-255-1023 (mobile)

Children: Laura, 1974; Hope, 1977; Margaret, 1986; Cynthia, 1988

Reuben is remembered by many for his diverse professional career as a litigator in Washington, DC, from public interest advocate to firm partner in his private practice. His actions were driven by his beliefs, from picketing outside of a closed government meeting to arguing in a courtroom. He enforced desegregation in construction trade unions for the Federal Highway Administration and he served as Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Civil Aeronautics Board. He was proud to be one of the original “Nader’s Raiders”, acting to protect and promote consumer rights and safety. He was amused when an editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal opposing his subsequent confirmation by the Senate as Chairman of the Administrative Conference, a unique government agency formed to improve the function of federal regulatory agencies. His quick wit even emerged in the Supreme Court when one of his impromptu retorts resulted in supportive laughter from the justices. They ultimately awarded him the decision that would entitle bumped passengers to compensation when airlines overbook their flights.

But most of all, Reuben is remembered as a devoted friend, relative, husband, and father of four daughters, Laura, Hope, Margaret, and Cynthia. His dedication to family and love of history motivated him to research a Robertson Clan history and he befriended newly discovered relatives from the Shetland Islands to New Zealand. Laura expressed his adoring daughters’ love for him in this excerpt from her tribute to Reuben at his Memorial Service:

“Our father was a man in constant motion, both in body and in mind. He took every opportunity to travel to exotic destinations and faraway places. He used vacations not to rest but to further enjoy life. He would submerge us in unfamiliar cultures, exploring ancient and historical sites, learning the region’s customs and practices, and partaking in new activities like scuba diving. On each trip, Dad would make acquaintances that he would keep in touch with, adding to his great network of friends.

He appreciated every experience the world had to offer him. When time away from the office was limited to the weekend, Dad would take us to our country house in West Virginia. He filled every moment there with adventure, encouraging us to hike, canoe, fish, and camp with him. While stargazing at night with his telescope, he spoke to us of some of the wonders of the universe….

For many years now, I have had the nurturing support necessary to thrive in today’s world. I have successfully become an adult daughter of an incredible and fascinating man, but more than that, I have recently become his friend. I have been molded throughout my life not only by his teachings but also by his example. I realize now how many of his characteristics are fundamental to who I have become. I deeply love and attempt to emulate him. My father gave me a life. I have been in awe of him ever since I took my first breath of air.

Our father has played an integral role in the lives of many. He was full of spirit and life. Although his body is gone, we have the ability to keep Daddy’s essence in our lives. By keeping in contact with one another, we can share the memories and feelings that he evoked in us all.”

And in this way, more than ten years after his untimely death, Reuben’s spirit remains with us as we eagerly recall stories of his camaraderie, loyalty, and even his infamous jokes and devilish pranks. In the words of his closest friend, Reuben was an American original: compassionate, kind-hearted, perhaps sometimes forgetful, but nonetheless always filled with humor.

—by Victoria Robertson


Reuben B. Robertson III, 60, a lawyer who directed studies of federal regulatory agencies at Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law and who was chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States in the last year of the Carter administration, died of colon cancer Jan. 4, 2000 at his Washington home.

The Administrative Conference, which was launched in 1968, promoted conflict resolution among warring federal officials and searched for ways to help agencies function more fairly and efficiently. Mr. Robertson was a senior fellow with the office until Congress abolished it in 1995.

As an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group in the 1970s, Mr. Robertson was founder and legal director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project, a group that became a major force in airline safety and consumer protection matters, including the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

During that period, Mr. Robertson represented Ralph Nader in a lawsuit against Allegheny Airlines, after Nader was bumped from a routinely overbooked flight to Hartford, Conn. As a result of the case, the airline industry changed its practices on overbooked flights, offering passengers willing to take later flights free or discounted tickets.

Mr. Robertson was a native of Cincinnati and a graduate of Yale University and its law school. He did additional graduate work at the London School of Economics.

He worked at Covington & Burling after moving to the Washington area in 1966 and then joined the office of the chief counsel of the Federal Highway Administration. He later worked for the Interstate Commerce Commission and was director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Over the last two decades Mr. Robertson was a partner in two District law firms, Ingersoll and Bloch and Hydeman, Mason, Burzio and Lloyd. More recently, he was in sole practice, representing clients who included financial institutions. He was of counsel to Mehri, Malkin and Ross.

He was a member of the Administrative Law Section of the American Bar Association and committees of the D.C. Bar.

He was also a fund-raiser for Yale and a governor of the Beauvoir School in Washington. He was a director of an ecological organization, Cacapon Institute in High View, W.Va., and a member of the Clan Donnachaidh Society of Scotland and had completed a history of the Robertson family.

Survivors include his wife of 31 years, Victoria Robertson of Washington; four daughters, Laura Robertson of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Hope Robertson of New York and Margaret Robertson and Cynthia Robertson, both of Washington; three brothers; two sisters, two stepsisters, and a stepbrother.