Remembering Murray Drabkin

Phi Beta Kappa is deeply saddened to mark the passing of one of our greatest friends and supporters, Murray Drabkin.


Drabkin served as president of the Fellows of Phi Beta Kappa for more than a decade, driving and defining the character of this group of distinguished supporters of the Society. His strength of purpose made his efforts on behalf of Phi Beta Kappa remarkable to all who knew him and his work.


As president of the Fellows, Drabkin participated in the work of the Phi Beta Kappa Senate and the Phi Beta Kappa Foundation, and was a valued member of the Foundation’s Investment Committee.


“Murray Drabkin was admired and respected throughout the Phi Beta Kappa community, here in Washington, D.C., and nationally,” said Secretary John Churchill. “But perhaps his greatest talent was his ability to bring outstanding national figures into association with the Fellows and with Phi Beta Kappa through the Fellows Award and the Couper Lecture.”


“Because of Murray, we were able to honor and to hear Harvard Presidents Derek Bok and Neil Rudenstine, Harvard Chaplain Peter Gomes, Librarian of Congress James Billington, Carnegie Institute President Richard Meserve, former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, and many others of like stature,” Churchill added.

“He loved a good joke and any discussion about sailing,” recalled Jack Williams, secretary-treasurer of the Fellows and long-time news anchor for CBS in Boston. “In addition to our Fellows’ meetings, we would meet at least twice a year for lunch in Boston after his meetings at Harvard.  He always wanted to know what the news media was thinking about politics, Harvard, and a liberal arts education.”


A retired partner with the law firm of Cadwalader Wickersham and Taft LLP, where he headed the firm’s bankruptcy reorganization practice until his retirement in 1992, Drabkin served as counsel to the firm of Hopkins & Sutter from 1992 to 2000, as Counsel to the Committee on the Judiciary for the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Special Assistant to the Mayor of New York City.

In addition to his position on the Board of Visitors and Governors for Washington College, Drabkin served on the Nominating Committee for the Harvard Board of Overseers and on a number of committees of the Harvard Alumni Association. His other institutional affiliations were far-ranging, including: member of the National Bankruptcy Conference (Chairman of the Committee on Railroad Reorganization, 1984-2000; Chairman of the Committee on Bankruptcy Crimes, 1994-98); Harvard Club of Washington (President 2000-2002 and Director 1996-2013); member of the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.; the Harvard Club of New York City; and the Chesapeake Bay Bermuda 40 Association.

Drabkin received his AB from Hamilton College in 1950. Three years later he had earned his LLB from Harvard Law School. After graduation from Harvard, he served in the United States Navy from 1953 to 1957 where he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

He died suddenly on February 3 and is survived by his wife Mary Elizabeth, his sister Charlotte Garrell of Fairfield, Connecticut; nephews Charles Garrell of Boulder, Colorado; Peter Garrell of Manhattan Beach, California; niece Elizabeth Bacon of New York City; and four great-nephews.


A Memorial Service will be held for Drabkin March 29 at the Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C., where Secretary Churchill, a fellow member of the Cosmos Club, will speak.


“Murray will be missed for his total dedication to Phi Beta Kappa and the Fellows, and for his and Mary’s graciousness as hosts at all the receptions,” said Myra S. Hatterer, vice president of the Fellows. “He is irreplaceable.”

In lieu of flowers, the Drabkin family has requested that contributions be made to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, 1606 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009, or to Jewish Social Service Agency, 200 Wood Hill Rd., Rockville, MD 20850.


Read Murray Drabkin’s obituary in the Washington Post and sign his guest book on


Contact Phi Beta Kappa about your memorial donation