Brice Clagett; Specialized in International Disputes

A devoted genealogist, Brice McAdoo Clagett bought a home built by his ancestors centuries ago.
A devoted genealogist, Brice McAdoo Clagett bought a home built by his ancestors centuries ago. (Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Brice McAdoo Clagett, 74, a Washington lawyer and historic preservationist, died April 8 of cardiac arrest at George Washington University Hospital.

An attorney for more than four decades with the law firm of Covington and Burling, Mr. Clagett's specialties included public and private international law, foreign claims, international arbitration, international land and maritime boundaries, transportation and environmental law and Middle Eastern law.

In 1960, former secretary of state Dean Acheson, a partner in the firm, asked Mr. Clagett to serve as a juridical counselor with the Cambodian delegation to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The case was a boundary dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia prevailed, and Acheson was made Prince of the Royal Order of Cambodia, while Mr. Clagett was made Commander of the Order.

In 1975, he argued before the Supreme Court in United States v. Maine on behalf of 11 of the 13 Atlantic coastal states that were challenging on constitutional grounds the alleged federal ownership of the Atlantic coastal shelf, which included oil-drilling rights.

Afterward, he received a letter from New Hampshire's deputy attorney general. "I have yet to make my maiden argument in the Supreme Court, and when I do I will think back to yours as a model," wrote David H. Souter, who is now a Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Clagett often appeared before the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, established to settle claims between Iran and American nationals after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He also represented numerous foreign governments in matters involving boundary disputes, natural resources, expropriation, war damages and treaty claims.

Born in the District, Mr. Clagett graduated from St. Albans School in 1950. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He was on the Harvard Law Review and the Board of Editors and won a Rotary Fellowship to study for a year at the University of Allahabad, India.

Mr. Clagett joined Covington and Burling as an associate in 1958 and became a partner in 1967. He retired in 2002.

A lifelong advocate of historic and land preservation and environmental protection, he served as chairman of the Maryland Historical Trust from 1972 to 1978 and chairman of the Maryland Environmental Trust from 1985 to 1989. He also was a member of the Clagett Family Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In 1968, he and his first wife, Virginia Parker Clagett, bought Holly Hill, a house in Friendship that was built by Mr. Clagett's ancestors more than three centuries ago. He lavished great care on both the house and gardens.

Passionate about history and genealogy, he compiled a 1,200-page book about 20 generations of his family, including his maternal grandfather, William Gibbs McAdoo, secretary of the Treasury in the Wilson administration.

"I wasn't born when I was born, and I won't die when I will die," he said in 1975. "I am part of a continuum of the family."

His first marriage ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Diana Sinkler Clagett of the District; and two children from his first marriage, John Brice de Treville Clagett of Friendship and Brooke Clagett of the District.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company