Identified by Washingtonian magazine as one of “ten legendary Washington lawyers who will forever leave their mark on the District’s legal landscape,” Dick Thornburgh served as Governor of Pennsylvania, Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, during a public career which spanned over 25 years, and recently retired as counsel to the international law firm of K&L Gates LLP.
Elected Governor of Pennsylvania in 1978 and re-elected in 1982, Thornburgh was the first Republican ever to serve two successive terms in that office. He served as Chair of the Republican Governors Association and was named by his fellow governors as one of the nation's most effective big-state governors in a 1986 Newsweek poll.
During his service as Governor, Thornburgh balanced state budgets for eight consecutive years, reduced both personal and business tax rates, cut the state's record-high indebtedness and left a surplus of $350 million. Under his leadership, 15,000 unnecessary positions were eliminated from the swollen state bureaucracy that he inherited and widely recognized economic development, education and welfare reform programs were implemented. Pennsylvania's unemployment rate, among the ten highest in the nation when he was elected, was among the ten lowest when he left office as 50,000 new businesses and 500,000 new private sector jobs were created during his tenure.
Following the unprecedented Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, Governor Thornburgh was described by observers as “one of the few authentic heroes of that episode as a calm voice against panic.”
After his unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate, Thornburgh served three years as Attorney General of the United States (1988-1991) in the cabinets of Presidents Reagan and Bush. He mounted a vigorous attack on white-collar crime as the Department of Justice obtained a record number of convictions of savings and loan and securities officials, defense contractors and corrupt public officials. Thornburgh established strong ties with law enforcement agencies around the world to help combat drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and international white-collar crime. During his tenure as Attorney General, he twice argued and won cases before the United States Supreme Court. The Legal Times noted that Thornburgh as Attorney General “built a reputation as one of the most effective champions that prosecutors have ever had.” An honorary Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he chaired a panel of the National Academy of Public Administration examining the FBI’s post-9/11 transformation process and served as a member of the FBI Director’s Advisory Board.
As Attorney General, Thornburgh played a leading role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2002, he received the Wiley E. Branton Award of The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in recognition of his “commitment to the civil rights of people with disabilities.” He also took vigorous action against racial, religious and ethnic “hate crimes,” and his office mounted a renewed effort to enforce the nation's antitrust and environmental laws.
All told, Thornburgh served in the Justice Department under five Presidents, beginning as United States Attorney in Pittsburgh (1969-1975) and Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division in Washington (1975-1977), emphasizing efforts against major drug traffickers, organized crime and corrupt public officials. In August 2002, he was appointed Examiner in the WorldCom bankruptcy proceedings, then the largest ever filed, to report on wrongdoing and malfeasance that led to the company’s downfall. He was also chosen in 2004 by CBS to co-chair an independent investigation into the “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard and has conducted numerous other internal investigations for leading enterprises.
During his service as Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations (1992-1993), Thornburgh was in charge of personnel, budget and finance matters. His report to the Secretary-General on reform, restructuring and streamlining efforts designed to make the United Nations peacekeeping, humanitarian and development programs more efficient and cost-effective was widely praised. He also served as a consultant to the United Nations, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank on continuing efforts to battle fraud and corruption.
In 2006, Thornburgh received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from The American Lawyer magazine for “important contributions to public life while building an outstanding private practice.” He was similarly honored in 2013 by The Legal Intelligencer, the nation’s oldest law journal, as among those who “represent the best the Pennsylvania legal community has to offer.” He has regularly been selected by his peers to be included in “The Best Lawyers in America” and the Pennsylvania Bar Association presented him with its Public Service in the Law Award in 1992. He currently chairs the Legal Advisory Board of the Washington Legal Foundation and served as a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Attorney-Client Privilege and the Pro Bono Task Force of the Legal Services Corporation.
A native of Pittsburgh, Thornburgh was educated at Yale University, where he obtained an engineering degree, and at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he served as an editor of the Law Review. He was among 300 Yale graduates recognized as “practitioners of talent and creativity” on the occasion of the University’s 300th anniversary in 2001 and has been awarded honorary degrees by 32 other colleges and universities. Thornburgh served as Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government (1987-1988) and has lectured on over 125 other campuses, (including Moscow State University in 1989 and 2011), debated at the Oxford Union and has frequently appeared as a guest commentator on network news and talk shows.
Thornburgh is a Life Trustee of the Urban Institute and a Trustee Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, the Gettysburg Foundation and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He served previously as Chair of the Board of Visitors at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, as a member of the Advisory Board of the RAND Corporation Center for Corporate Ethics and Governance and as a member of the boards of Merrill Lynch Incorporated, Rite-Aid Corporation, ARCO Chemical Corporation, Élan Corporation, plc, the Urban League of Pittsburgh, The Stimson Center, the National Museum of Industrial History and the National Academy of Public Administration. He was the founding Chairman of the State Science and Technology Institute and served as Vice-Chairman of the World Committee on Disability.
Thornburgh, born July 16, 1932, is married to Ginny Judson Thornburgh, a former schoolteacher from New York, who holds degrees from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She served as Director of the Interfaith Initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities, based in Washington, D.C., and co-authored and edited That All May Worship, an award-winning handbook for religious congregations working to include people with all types of disabilities. She received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in April, 2005.
The Thornburghs have four sons, six grandchildren, four great granddaughters and a great-grandson. As parents of a son with physical and intellectual disability, they have taken a special interest in the needs of persons with disabilities and, with their son, Peter, were named “Family of the Year” in 1985 by the Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Citizens. Both Ginny and Dick Thornburgh were featured speakers at the Vatican Conference on Disabilities held in Rome in November, 1992 and were co-recipients in 2003 of the Henry B. Betts Award, the proceeds from which were used to establish the Thornburgh Family Lecture Series on Disability Law and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh under the sponsorship of its Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law & Public Policy (see thornburghforum.pitt.edu).
Dick Thornburgh’s autobiography, “Where the Evidence Leads” has been published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in both hardback (2003) and paperback (2010) editions. Further details on his career are available on this Web site.