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Howard Trienens, Northwestern alumnus, trustee, former board chair and longtime benefactor, dies at 97

howard trienens
Howard Trienens was a devoted supporter of Northwestern Athletics.
howard trienens
Howard Trienens at the Trienens Performance Center dedication.
howard trienens
Howard Trienens, left, hands the baton to a fellow student-athlete.

Howard J. Trienens ’45, ’49 JD, ’95 H, Northwestern University alumnus, life trustee, former chair of the Board of Trustees and one of the University’s most generous benefactors, died July 26. He was 97 years old.

“Howard was clearly the smartest person in any room. But he wielded his incredible intellect in a humane and inspiring way,” said President Morton Schapiro. “I absolutely adored him and am so grateful to have had him as a mentor and as a role model. His contributions to his alma mater are legendary.”

Trienens became a member of the board in 1967, serving as chair from 1986 to 1995. He became a life trustee in 2000.

“Howard was a singularly beloved and esteemed member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees for over five decades, including nearly a decade as chairman, and his absence from the boardroom will be felt by us all,” said J. Landis Martin, chair of the Board of Trustees. “Howard’s brilliant stewardship was integral to advancing Northwestern to its present stature. Many will never know the entirety of his contributions to guiding Northwestern; this is a testament to Howard’s purpose, which was never about himself but always about Northwestern. Howard’s legacy is in a league of its own and Northwestern will forever owe him its deepest gratitude.”

Double alumnus

A double alumnus, he received his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern’s J.L. Kellogg School of Management in 1945 after returning from service in the Army during World War II. As a student at what was then the Northwestern University School of Law, he was editor-in-chief of the Illinois Law Review (now known as the Northwestern University Law Review). 

While at Northwestern, Trienens met his late wife, Paula, who was also a Northwestern student. They were married in 1946. Trienens and his family supported many parts of the Northwestern community, including athletics and the Law School. In memory of Paula, he created the Howard & Paula Trienens Fund to support the continued growth of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

Joins Sidley Austin

After graduating in 1949, Trienens went on to teach a course in criminal law at the Law School before joining the firm Sidley Austin as an associate. From 1950 to 1952, he served as law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

After returning to Sidley, he became a partner in 1956 and was increasingly involved in the management of the firm. He was instrumental in the 1972 merger, unusual at the time, of Sidley with Leibman, Williams, Bennett, Baird & Minow, a smaller firm known for its corporate, banking, real estate, litigation, media and advertising practices. This consolidation also brought Newton Minow ’49, ’50 JD, ’65 H into the Sidley fold. Trienens and Minow were in the inaugural class of The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement honorees.

Key role at AT&T

From 1980 to 1986, Trienens served as senior vice president and general counsel of AT&T, while maintaining his position at Sidley. At AT&T, he played a key role in resolving the antitrust litigation brought by the United States. The consent decree introduced competition into the telecommunications industry, and he was deeply involved in the restructuring of the Bell System and AT&T following the settlement of the Department of Justice suit.

In 1989, Trienens’ partners at Sidley Austin established The Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar Program and The Howard J. Trienens Professorship to honor his service to the firm and to Northwestern. The Trienens Visiting Scholar Program has brought many leading jurists to the Law School, including eight supreme court justices. Professor Shari Diamond ’70 MA, ’72 Ph.D. has held the Trienens Chair since 2001.

“I had the privilege of working closely with Mr. Trienens during my years as a lawyer at Sidley Austin, and his love of the firm, the practice of law, and mentoring young lawyers was beyond compare,” said Jim Speta, interim dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “In fact, I have long described his attention to detail, his strategic and thorough thinking, and his leadership as terrifyingly excellent. He was among the lawyers most responsible for my early professional development, and my abiding interest in the deep questions of telecommunications, utility and administrative law.”

Accolades

Trienens received an honorary degree from Northwestern in 1995 and, the following year, was awarded the Alumni Medal, Northwestern’s highest alumni honor. In 2013, he was the first recipient of the Law School’s Distinguished Alumni Award.  

In 2017, Trienens was interviewed for the Northwestern Law Oral History Project. He shared this about considering a career in academia: “Sitting in the office and trying to think of things to write about in law reviews was not my idea of fun. At the law firm, you didn’t have to invent legal problems, they came to you.” 

Athletics

Trienens was a devoted fan and supporter of Northwestern Athletics. Most recently, he made a gift to support the renovation of a state-of-the-art practice facility for basketball, volleyball and other programs in the Welsh-Ryan Arena. In recognition of the gift, the facility was named the Trienens Performance Center. He was elected to the Northwestern University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018.

“My sympathies go out to the Trienens family, their friends and the countless individuals that Howard impacted throughout his life,” said Derrick Gragg, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. “Northwestern’s ascension into the upper echelon of intercollegiate athletics would not have been possible without the devoted leadership and unwavering support of Howard Trienens and his family. We are forever grateful for his dedication, generosity and legacy that will benefit our student-athletes, coaches and staff far into the future.”

“We are truly saddened by the passing of Howard Trienens,” said Joe McKeown, head women’s basketball coach at Northwestern. “He was an incredibly generous and passionate supporter of Northwestern University, our athletics department and the women’s basketball program. Our student-athletes and staff are fortunate to call the Trienens Performance Center home. Its addition has not only transformed the student-athlete experience, but has been integral to the success of our program as we continue to win Big Ten championships and compete for national titles. His enthusiasm and encouragement will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

Trienens was preceded in death by his wife, Paula, and his oldest son John. He is survived by his daughter and fellow Northwestern Trustee Nan Trienens Kaehler ’79 MA/MS (’79 P); son Kip; nine grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and his longtime friend and companion Sally Dumas.

“Over the years, as I would sit in board meetings with Dad, I had the amazing opportunity to hear CEOs, heads of state and other leaders express their high regard for my father,” Kaehler said. “Everything they said about him was true — he was brilliant and kind, loyal to his firm and to Northwestern, and an incredible mentor. He was also a loving and devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather, cherished by his family and friends. We live by his example.”

A memorial service will be planned.

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