A leading transatlanticist with a rapier wit: The Atlantic Council remembers C. Boyden Gray

The Atlantic Council mourns the passing of brilliant lawyer and beloved board member C. Boyden Gray, who died over the weekend at the age of eighty. An influential legal scholar and dedicated public servant, Gray had a distinguished career in and outside of government, serving as White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to the European Union (EU) for President George W. Bush.

Gray was vice chair of the Atlantic Council and one of the longest-serving members of its board of directors, having joined the board in 2002. He cared deeply about regulatory issues, energy policy, and economic alignment between the United States and the EU. 

During his two decades on the board, Gray became deeply involved in the Council’s work, most notably through the GeoEconomics Center, where he created the C. Boyden Gray Senior Fellowship for Transatlantic Economic Affairs and helped establish the center’s Economic Statecraft Initiative. His last public appearance at the Atlantic Council was at the launch of the initiative in December 2021. 

“Boyden Gray was a remarkable individual, a transatlanticist, a brilliant lawyer, and above all a dear friend to many of us. He was one of the most influential legal thinkers of his generation and leaves behind an enduring legacy—through his lengthy public service, tireless advocacy efforts, and beyond,” said Atlantic Council Chairman John F.W. Rogers. “The Atlantic Council was one of many organizations that benefitted immensely from his support, enthusiasm, and leadership. We were lucky to know such a good man—he will be greatly missed.”

The North Carolina native who started his law career as a clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren later became instrumental to landmark laws such as the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the Energy Policy Act of 1992, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In addition to serving as EU ambassador, he served as special envoy for European affairs and special envoy for Eurasian energy during the George W. Bush administration. Outside of government, his law and strategy firm worked on constitutional and administrative law, regulatory policy, and international affairs.

“We’ll remember Boyden for his rapier wit, his brilliant mind, and his steadfast devotion to deregulation and to stronger transatlantic relations,” said Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. “He was a pioneer of the Atlantic Council’s expanded work into international economics.”

Below find more remembrances on Gray’s legacy and career from the Atlantic Council network.

Adrienne Arsht: A “wicked sense of humor and great intellect”

Christopher Brummer: “He was always happy to listen”

Paula Dobriansky: “Whatever Boyden took on, he was outspoken and made a real policy difference”

Julia Friedlander: He “bucked the expectations of the hardened, polemical environment we now navigate”

Charles Lichfield: He “believed in the potential of transatlantic economic relations”

Josh Lipsky: He understood precisely where one could and should nudge to be better

Andrea Montanino: “An inexhaustible guide”

Virginia A. Mulberger:  He worked “all in the effort of leaving a better world”

Bart Oosterveld: He “could make any group of people burst out in laughter with his sharp wit”

Kostas Pantazopoulos: “The best tribute to his memory is…”

Walter Slocombe: “An extraordinary contributor to the Council”

Damon Wilson: “A strong commitment to bipartisan problem-solving”

A “wicked sense of humor and great intellect”

Above all, I will remember Boyden’s wicked sense of humor and great intellect. Although we rarely saw eye to eye and tended to hold opposite views on most issues, we treasured talking about it, and could always bridge our differences through a shared laugh. As we would often say, “You can either agree with me or be wrong.” He will be missed by many.

Adrienne Arsht is executive vice chair of the Atlantic Council.

“He was always happy to listen”

Boyden Gray gave me my first opportunity to be me in Washington. This town is, all too often, not just an exclusive place, but also one that isn’t always hospitable to new folks. But for all of Boyden’s association with this city, Mr. Gray, a true North Carolinian (and fellow Southerner!) would have nothing of it.

I was still new to the city, and frankly still green in the world of think tanking (and even university teaching). But Boyden from day one treated me as someone worthy of his attention—which was a big deal for me. Plus, he was always happy to listen to whatever crazy idea was rolling around in my head.  And yes, we weren’t in the same political party, but I can’t recall it mattering.  For some reason, I always felt Boyden liked me. Whatever our differences, I don’t recall us ever disagreeing, perhaps because we always tried to meet one another in a place where our values overlapped. And over the years, I found those spaces to be more than I could count.

I will freely admit that a portion of my professional success lies in him giving me a shot—without any restrictions. I could always call him up, stop by his office to chat, and when I needed him to, he made phone calls to people on my behalf—the kind only Boyden could make.

So today, I feel sadness but also pride. I was the first Boyden C. Gray fellow! The Big Guy shaped my career as much as the title and the job. And I’ll always be grateful.

Christopher Brummer is Williams research professor and faculty director of Georgetown’s Institute of International Economic Law and a former C. Boyden Gray fellow.

“Whatever Boyden took on, he was outspoken and made a real policy difference”

Boyden Gray was an amazing human being and outstanding lawyer. He was White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush, US ambassador to the European Union, and a most active and influential Atlantic Council board member and vice president. Whatever Boyden took on, he was outspoken and made a real policy difference. He never shied away from controversy or from a good political debate. One area that Boyden cared deeply about was climate change, the environment, and the future of renewables. Boyden, you’ll be sorely missed!

Paula Dobriansky is a vice chair of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and former US under secretary of state for global affairs.

He “bucked the expectations of the hardened, polemical environment we now navigate”

Boyden was a fascinating figure. From headlines you might say a man of contradictions but underneath clearly of conviction. It was just the world around him that didn’t make as much sense as it should have. He defied political characterization with the Constitution as his guide and bucked the expectations of the hardened, polemical environment we now navigate, one that leaves scant room for nuance. Boyden’s interest—even fascination—with EU politics and policy ran deep. He wanted to make the partnership work, down to the last regulation. When others complained in boilerplate terms about “intransigent” Europeans, Boyden’s argument would focus on what would benefit both sides, and if the Europeans were “right” and the Americans were “wrong,” he’d just say so. He acknowledged the weaknesses of the American system as well as extolling its strengths and understood that the United States cannot successfully advance its priorities, or defend its interests, without its European allies. We’ll look back on Boyden’s legacy as a trailblazing one in US-EU relations, as finance and regulation increasingly define our foreign engagements and the international balance of power. I am grateful for his support of the GeoEconomics Center, of my work personally, and the founding of the Economic Statecraft Initiative. 

Julia Friedlander is the chief executive officer of Atlantik-Brücke and a former C. Boyden Gray senior fellow and director of the Economic Statecraft Initiative (2020-2022).

He “believed in the potential of transatlantic economic relations”

C. Boyden Gray believed in the potential of transatlantic economic relations and was a passionate advocate for minimizing the superfluous regulatory barriers that have sometimes stood in its way. Boyden was one of the GeoEconomics Center’s earliest supporters and made sure we raised awareness of European perspectives on economic statecraft around Washington. We will sorely miss his precision, insights, and encouragement.

Charles Lichfield is the deputy director of the GeoEconomics Center and C. Boyden Gray senior fellow.

He understood precisely where one could and should nudge to be better

The first time I met Boyden he grilled me on my views about the administrative state. I could tell he didn’t agree with all my answers (or maybe any of them) but at the end of the conversation he smiled and said, “Well, we’ll have good debates about this.” In the years since he was true to his word. I saw first-hand his analytical mind at work when we unpacked regulation by the European Union (EU) and about issues such as a carbon tax and the green transition. When he said the United States and EU were good friends, he did not mean they were forever allies regardless of circumstance. He meant they needed to push each other to be better. He understood precisely where one could and should nudge the other—perhaps better than almost anyone else on the US side. The last time I saw him he told me and my colleague Charles the ways the US-EU Technology and Trade Council was missing key issues. But then, almost as an aside, he said, “But they are making progress. And I give them credit for that.” It was the perfect note to end on.

Josh Lipsky is the senior director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center. He previously served as an advisor at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

“An inexhaustible guide”

Boyden was an inexhaustible guide through my years at the Atlantic Council. He not only passionately advocated for the transatlantic economic relations work we did, but he helped me navigate Washington—not easy for someone like me coming from overseas. He has been truly supportive, and I will always be grateful to him for this.

Andrea Montanino is chief economist at Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, a former C. Boyden Gray fellow, and director of the Council’s Global Business and Economics Program (2014-2017).

He worked “all in the effort of leaving a better world”

Boyden was such a wise, thoughtful man who generously contributed his intellect, time, and financial support to every endeavor in which he engaged—all in the effort of leaving a better world. I served for many decades on the board of the Atlantic Council with Boyden. He loved its mission and its impact. Boyden was above all a truly kind man, and I’m privileged to have called him a dear friend. He will be missed by so many.

Virginia A. Mulberger is a vice chair of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

He “could make any group of people burst out in laughter with his sharp wit” 

Boyden was tireless in his efforts to strengthen transatlantic relations and any other topic he felt passionate about. He was a generous friend and mentor to so many people over the course of decades, and it was truly an honor to work with him. He was wondrously unique and eccentric, had an exceptional intellect, and could make any group of people burst out in laughter with his sharp wit. 

Bart Oosterveld is the Chief Criteria Officer at Fitch Ratings and a former C. Boyden Gray fellow and director of the Global Business & Economics Program (2017-2019).

“The best tribute to his memory is…”

The best tribute to his memory I can think of is to continue making him proud in the work he fathered. My condolences to his family and dear friends. 

—Kostas Pantazopoulos is a member of the Atlantic Council board of directors.

“An extraordinary contributor to the Council”

Boyden—whom I knew first as a Supreme Court clerk—was a very good lawyer and businessman, a dedicated public servant including as ambassador to the complex world of the EU. He was also an extraordinary contributor to the Council both financially and substantively. He was—to use an old-fashioned expression—a good man.

—Walter Slocombe is a member of the Atlantic Council board of directors.

“A strong commitment to bipartisan problem-solving”

As a former ambassador to the European Union and vice chair of the Atlantic Council, Boyden Gray played a leading role in ensuring that the Council was as much at strength on transatlantic trade and global finance as it was on transatlantic security and global geopolitics. He, along with like-minded partners like Council President and CEO Fred Kempe, understood more than most that the United States and its allies would be able to compete more effectively in the twenty-first century if they were able to unleash the potential of their economies to ensure that free societies delivered prosperity for their people.

With his intellectual as much as financial support, we worked together with Kempe to launch the C. Boyden Gray Fellow on Global Finance and Growth in 2012 to develop strategies to overcome the dangers resulting from the eurozone and US financial crises and ensuing slow growth. From the Council perch, he pushed for greater ambition in the US-EU relationship, calling in 2013 for an Economic NATO “that will eliminate barriers to economic growth and spur creativity and investment both domestically and across the Atlantic.” 

Indeed, at the start of the Trump administration, through his private diplomacy and strong relationships of trust, he was among the most effective advocates convincing skeptics in the new administration of the merits of investing in bolstering the NATO alliance and working with allies. 

While Boyden was well known for his service in Republican administrations, he demonstrated a strong commitment to bipartisan problem-solving through his engagement at the Council, whether participating in projects such as the EuroGrowth Task Force led by former Clinton administration official Stu Eizenstat or his support for naming Georgetown professor and Democratic advisor Chris Brummer and career official Julia Friedlander as a C. Boyden Gray senior fellows.

An intellectual entrepreneur himself, over long brunches at Café Milano, Boyden joined Fred in championing the creation of the Council’s GeoEconomics Center. Today, Josh Lipsky, Kim Donovan, and Charles Lichfield (who also has the distinction of being the current C. Boyden Gray senior fellow) lead the center’s dynamic team, which in its few short years has become the go-to source for policy-relevant economic analysis. 

Boyden leaves his mark on both the Council and so many of us who had the honor of working with him at the Council. He also leaves a legacy of reminding us that the United States and its democratic allies, while being economic competitors, can create more jobs, promote higher growth, and sustain prosperity through open markets by working together to shape global standards and norms. 

I will remember Boyden for his clear views, strong convictions, and soft touch as much as for his extraordinary support of my work and the work of my colleagues. He was a gentleman.

Damon Wilson is the president and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy and former executive vice president of the Atlantic Council.

Related Experts: Frederick Kempe, Adrienne Arsht, Chris Brummer, Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky, Charles Lichfield, Andrea Montanino, and Damon Wilson