Sol Linowitz, 91, a businessman who became chairman of the board of a small Rochester-based company that grew to be Xerox, a diplomat who was co-negotiator of the Panama Canal treaties and a lawyer who in later years became a forceful advocate for legal ethics, died March 18 at his home in the District, his family said. The cause of death was pneumonia, after a long illness.
When President Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, Mr. Linowitz chaired a committee on U.S.-Latin American relations that identified the conflict over the Panama Canal as the most serious problem confronting the United States in the area. Carter agreed with the panel's conclusions, and asked Mr. Linowitz and Ellsworth Bunker to negotiate a treaty that was "generous, fair and appropriate."
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"In retrospect, I'd have to say that assignment was probably the most difficult and exciting challenge of my life," Mr. Linowitz once recalled. "It is also the accomplishment of which I am most proud."
He also served as the president's personal representative to the Middle East peace negotiations from 1979 to 1981.
Mr. Linowitz was the quintessential "public man." He not only served presidents as a diplomat but sat on countless boards and commissions, usually policy-oriented private organizations.
He was, for example, co-founder, with David Rockefeller, of the International Executive Service Corps, which sent mostly retired businessmen on six-month tours of duty to help local companies in developing nations. Mr. Linowitz described it as "a privately sponsored Peace Corps with a business slant."
He was founder and co-chairman of Inter-American Dialogue, as well as chairman of a 1978 presidential commission on world hunger. The commission produced a report the next year recommending "that the United States make the elimination of hunger the primary focus of its relationships with developing countries, beginning with the decade of the 1980s."
No action was taken.
"I met him when he was appointed by President Johnson as a trustee of Kennedy Center," Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis told Martin Mayer, who wrote a profile of his friend in an April 24, 1966, article for the New York Times Magazine. "So then you see him at all the meetings. One doesn't, obviously, pour out one's soul at meetings. What's so special about Sol Linowitz, in these days when everyone is so busy, is that he really does pour himself out. He's quickly brilliant -- and he gets on with people. He's kind."
Sol Myron Linowitz was the eldest of four sons born to Joseph and Rose Oglenskye Linowitz, immigrants from a region of Poland under Russian rule. He was born in Trenton, N.J., in a multicultural neighborhood of Jews, Protestants and Catholics, as well as one African American family. His father was a fruit importer.
"He built up a significant business, and provided the family with a comfortable standard of living," Mr. Linowitz recalled in a 1995 interview that appeared in Bar Report, a publication of the DC Bar. "I always assumed that after high school I'd go off to college. But my father's business came crashing down in the Depression."
Mr. Linowitz graduated from Trenton Central High School -- first in his class, his brother Robert Linowes recalled. (As adults, Mr. Linowitz's three brothers changed the spelling of the family name.) Despite the Depression, he was still able to go to college -- Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. -- thanks to scholarships and part-time jobs waiting tables, selling newspapers, tutoring and other odd jobs. One of only two Jews in his Hamilton class, he sold Christmas cards to supplement his income.
In addition, he was a violinist, one accomplished enough to make solo appearances from age 11 and to play in the violin section of the Utica Symphony. He also fronted for an Atlantic City dance band during the summer.
He graduated in 1935 as the salutatorian of his class at Hamilton and delivered a commencement oration in Latin.