Ira M. Lowe, a colorful Washington lawyer whose apartment in Kew Gardens in Georgetown was a way station for counter-culture organizers, celebrities, artists and other figures during the turbulent 1960s, died June 11 at his home after a lengthy illness. He was 88.
He maintained offices in New York and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., as well as in Washington, where his client list and friends over the years included artists, writers and sometimes political prisoners. He frequently entertained at informal dinner parties, sometimes beginning late in the evening and continuing into the wee hours of the morning, for the likes of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, Lillian Hellman, Maya Angelou, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, John Steinbeck, William Styron and Art Buchwald, among others, including occasional conservatives.
Piercing eyes and full beard that turned from dark to white over the years gave him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet, but he lived the life of the bachelor boulevardier, often attending two or three dinner parties in a single evening, arriving in his vintage Jaguar or sometimes on his Harley-Davidson. He occasionally arrived at court on his motorcycle as well, sometimes with his client riding behind him. He often cruised the Potomac with friends and clients aboard his boat, the Ancient Mariner, which sank and was recovered three times.
Mr. Lowe worked with political figures, ranging from Ramsey Clark, the U.S. attorney general in the Johnson administration, to John Ehrlichman, assistant to President Nixon, in behalf of prison reform and in seeking creative alternatives to prison. He was invited to Havana by Fidel Castro in 1959 to observe the trials of associates of the deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista. He attended the trial of Nazi figure Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and was an accredited observer of the trials of dissidents in Chile. He was one of the early “arts lawyers,” and is credited with making the first application of the “blockage discount theory” to place a value on the art remaining in the estates of artists, which saved the estates millions of dollars. He was co-executor of the estate of sculptor David Smith, and his clients in the art world included Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Hirshhorn, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark di Suvero, Larry Rivers, Sam Gilliam and others of the Washington Color School painters. He represented many impoverished clients, often for no fee, in local courts and before government agencies.
Ira Melvin Lowe was born in Boston, the son of Isadore Lowe and Etta Glaser, and his family moved to Washington in 1934, when he was 10, and his father came to work for Clarence Darrow, the noted criminal-defense lawyer. He attended Dartmouth University and Georgetown University before enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the beginning of World War II, and serving in the South Pacific. He returned to Washington where he graduated from George Washington University Law School in 1949. A marriage as a young man ended in divorce, and he never married again.
He is survived by a sister, Tina Rips. A memorial service will be held in September.