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Peter Kaskell, 1924-2019

Peter Kaskell died on December 12, 2019. He was a dear friend whom I met at the CPR Institute and who taught me not just the delicate arts of demand-led commercial dispute management, but the even more delicate arts of humility, service and attention to others’ needs.

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At the age of 20, Peter distinguished himself as a hero of the Italian campaign in World War II, a topic on which he was reluctant to speak at any length. He was recently (and belatedly) awarded the Croix de Chevalier dans l’Order de la Legion d’Honneur, and was very proud to show me all of the certificates and letters and medals and other accouterments that accompanied that long-delayed recognition.

Peter also served Olin Corporation for 27 years, advancing to the office of Vice President and General Counsel. Later, with James F. Henry, he helped to form what was first known as the Center for Public Resources, later named the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution and now the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution. His interest was to assist companies to devise alternatives to litigating disputes with each other, or with stakeholders such as employees. It was in that capacity that I met Peter in 1998.

My job at CPR was, in broad strokes, to learn enough about what Peter did to take on his responsibilities sometime down the road. I watched him lead committees of company representatives in the franchise, chemical, sports, insurance and other sectors; corral initially antagonistic interests in devising protocols for managing and resolving employment disputes; serve as secretary to the nonprofit corporation; author solid reports on managing product liability exposure and other areas of legal and corporate concern; and mediate tensions within the Institute with good humor, perspective and insight.

I don’t know what it was like to be a war hero at 20, and I don’t know what it’s like to head the legal department of a major chemical company. I don’t know what it feels like to be awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of France or to be at the beginning of a nonprofit corporation that developed approaches to avoiding, managing and resolving disputes that resulted in intellectual outputs of global impact. I just followed Peter around, and found myself in room after room where everybody there was smarter than me. And I loved it.

Of the many gifts that Peter gave me, one stands out. Early in my tenure at CPR, Peter took me to a program at the City Bar Association on the (then innovative) use of mediation by corporate 100 companies as policy rather than exception. PD Villarreal of General Electric was one of the speakers and extolled the tools that had been created by CPR. He also said that, among the compelling reasons for GE’s policy of seeking to mediate nearly every dispute, was that “mediation makes me feel like a human being.” I was struck not only by the scale of achievement of the enterprise I was joining, but also by the opportunity to conform my professional work to my spiritual and ethical proclivities. I shared this with Peter on the walk back.

Peter was uncharacteristically firm. “We do not do good,” he said. “Please do not give people the impression that we are virtuous or that mediation is a way of doing the Lord’s work.” He stopped on the sidewalk and, for the first and only time in our friendship, raised a finger to me. “The responsibility of a publicly held company is to create value for its owners. Mediation is a tool for doing that. That is what we are on about, and only that.”

This was a formative, even transformative, insight for me. Peter taught me that advising enterprises on reducing cost of dispute resolution was a skilled legal service, offered — like any legal advice — to benefit the recipient of the counsel. Whether resolving a dispute early, rather than late, on these terms or that, is an exercise in virtue is irrelevant. The dispute, and the decision whether, when and on what terms to resolve it, belong to the disputant. CPR Institute was there to increase their options and to provide metrics, tools and competence on methods testing and reporting out to management on their short-term and long-term effectiveness. I have approached ADR in this context ever since. We don’t teach disputants. We listen to them.

Peter and his wife Joan were a classy couple. My wife and I joined other guests at their beautiful home in Wilton on one occasion where Joan concocted a Christmas Trifle that was so beautifully presented and so distinctively festive that I went out and bought a stemmed trifle bowl just like hers. The first time I made her trifle was the only time that our dinner guests actually clapped their hands in pleasure when I entered the dining room. I plan to make it again for this year’s Christmas dinner, the grateful recipient of an exceptional man’s guidance, kindness, wisdom and forbearance.

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