Robert M. Pennoyer was born into a storied family – his maternal grandfather was the legendary J. P. Morgan. His irresistible memoir traces his sheltered childhood on the Gold Coast of Long Island; an adolescence overshadowed by the gathering clouds of World War II; and a young adulthood that survived one of the decisive engagements of the Pacific Theater – Iwo Jima. The author gives us as well a heartwarming account of a romance that blossomed into a lifelong matrimonial partnership and a close family life, tested nonetheless by crisis. And he chronicles a distinguished career, the early part of which was spent in the service of President Eisenhower and the latter part in private law practice and pro bono work.
As It Was begins in an era of unprecedented wealth and privilege for some and great misery and poverty for others, – one that Mark Twain lampooned as the “Gilded Age,” and ends, coming in effect full circle, in our own era of the One Per Cent, as the income chasm in America reopens. What divides these periods, and is so impressively portrayed here, is the rise of American Progressivism led by the two Roosevelts.
Most importantly, this book is itself a demonstration of the values that boosted America on its path to greatness and for which no finer exemplar could be found than its author. It bespeaks a belief in democracy that is passionate and unshakable, and builds on a deep appreciation of the institutions that enable it. The spirit that flows through these pages may be modest, but it is also filled with an irrepressible optimism and a faith in simple values that are both uplifting and marvelously contagious. As It Was is a lesson in a life well lived, and a tonic for dark and troubled times.
— Scott Horton, author of Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare (2015), contributing editor,Harper’s Magazine.
“As It Was weaves effortlessly back and forth between Robert Pennoyer’s private life and his public life as a lawyer – from his fascinating recollections of his grandfather J.P. Morgan and his marriage to the prettiest girl on the block to being a counselor to the Department of Defense and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum. Wherever he goes, he champions humanitarian causes, aided by the law and an elegant hand with a pen.”
– Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr., former staff writer for the New Yorker and author of several books about space exploration.
Robert M. Pennoyer attended St. Paul’s School and Harvard College. During World War II he saw action in the Pacific as a young Naval officer. After graduation from Columbia Law School, he became, successively, a Federal prosecutor, and a counsel in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Eisenhower years. In 1958 he returned to private practice in New York, joining a small firm, Patterson Belknap & Webb, which he helped to build into one of the leading firms in the country. For many years he served as counsel to the Rockefeller foundation.
Committed to public service, Pennoyer founded a halfway house for men emerging from prison, and over the years served as a trustee of Columbia University, Union Theological Seminary, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and, for half a century each, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library.
In the 1970s, under his leadership as president, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation established, at the suggestion of his poet wife, Victoria Parsons Pennoyer, the prestigious Whiting Writers’ Awards.
He lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and, at the age of 90, still goes to the office every day.