A Grateful President, Giving Back
Perito takes the reins of the HLSA with an eye toward mentorship, forging connections
Growing up in the Italian enclave of Boston’s North End, where his father owned a small appliance store, and later, in South Medford, Paul L. Perito ’64, the new president of the Harvard Law School Association, was the first male in his family to finish high school, let alone go to college or attend law school.
After his parents—who gave him “love and focus and the love of learning”—Perito credits HLS as “the singular most transformative educational experience in my life.” A recipient of the Edward John Noble Scholarship, which paid all his HLS expenses for three years, Perito is deeply grateful for the mentorship and rigor of Harvard Law.
“Every day of my life, my HLS education plays a role in my decision-making,” says Perito, chairman, president and chief operating officer of Star Scientific Inc. (NASDAQ: STSI), a company that developed and patented technologies for reducing the major carcinogens in tobacco leaf and smoke and currently is focused on a nutraceutical compound, Anatabloc®, that it believes holds promise for assisting in controlling excessive levels of inflammation that impact a range of autoimmune-related diseases. He says of his training at HLS, “It disciplines me, steels me from being overawed by the complex situations I deal with on a daily basis.”
One such situation came about after he’d graduated and served for four years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York before becoming chief counsel and staff director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Crime, where he helped draft major anti-drug legislation. Perito remembers the day in 1970 when, out of the blue, he received a phone call from President Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, asking him to a meeting at the White House that afternoon. “When I got there, Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman were in the room with the president, and they said, ‘Dr. Jerome H. Jaffe recommended you to be deputy director of the new drug abuse prevention office,’ which became known as the Drug Czar’s Office,” Perito recalls.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, perhaps you are not aware of the fact that I’m not a member of your party,’” he says, adding, with a laugh, “I thought Haldeman and Ehrlichman would come over the table at me. But President Nixon said, ‘Does that make a difference to you?’ I said no, and he said, ‘I have one question for you: Who did you vote for in the 1968 elections?’ I said, ‘Your opponent, Mr. President.’ And Nixon said, ‘I feel like Diogenes with the lantern—I’ve met an honest Democrat in Washington.’”
After Perito was nominated by Nixon in early 1972, then HLS Dean Albert M. Sacks ’48 and future Dean James Vorenberg ’51 immediately telephoned him and offered to testify on his behalf before the U.S. Senate. So did Robert W. Meserve ’34 (then president of the ABA and former president of the American College of Trial Lawyers), a mentor and trial instructor at HLS who’d advised Perito that a law degree from Harvard would give him more opportunities to have an impact on the world than his original plan of getting a Ph.D. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Public Administration (predecessor of the JFK School of Government).
It’s advice that has resonated across his 45-plus-year career, and it’s the kind of support for which Perito feels especially grateful. He has eagerly taken the reins of the HLSA to work for the Association with which he’s been deeply involved, including 12 years as president of HLSA-DC. Perito, who is quick to laud the work of his HLSA presidential predecessors, including Sharon Jones ’82, intends to build on their efforts. He wants the HLSA to continue to expand its services for older alumni and for women and minority graduates, and he plans to strengthen the many Association chapters around the U.S. and the world (it now has 37 chapters in 112 countries, including the U.S.). He also wants to increase the mentoring aspect of the HLSA, “a favorite initiative of Dean Minow’s”—by pairing older alumni with more recent graduates—and otherwise encourage recent graduates to remain connected to HLS, a connection that has served him so well for so many years.
To share ideas about the HLSA, write to Paul Perito at email@example.com.
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