Paul Brountas, prominent high-tech attorney who chaired Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign, dies at 85
When Michael S. Dukakis clinched the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination in the final primaries on June 7, he turned to his most trusted adviser, Paul Brountas, for the next big step: picking a running mate. At breakfast the next morning in Los Angeles, Mr. Brountas outlined a selection process.
“This is the single major decision that either presidential candidate will make until November,” Mr. Brountas later told the Globe, “so the way you do it, and the result, tells you a lot about the man.”
It also said a lot about Mr. Brountas. The approach he crafted became the template for the Democratic Party’s future nominees.
“He gave me a letter and said, ‘Take this and read it,’ ” Dukakis recalled. “The process for selecting a running mate that Paul Brountas put together for me is one that Democratic candidates have followed almost to the letter ever since — we were asked for that memo by subsequent campaigns. He was the guy who laid it out, how to do it. And that was Brountas: great intelligence, great judgment.”
Mr. Brountas, who during a lengthy career as a partner at the law firm WilmerHale helped create the legal framework that spurred the growth of Route 128’s high-tech corridor, died Dec. 26 of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 85 and had lived in Weston.
“I look at Paul Brountas, and I think the rest of Boston does, as one of the real pioneers of the Boston tech community and marketplace. Before there was anything known as Route 128 or Silicon Valley, Paul recognized the importance of emerging technologies,” said Mark Borden, a partner at WilmerHale.
“In my opinion,” Borden added, “Paul is the best corporate lawyer the town of Boston has ever seen, and is likely to ever see.”
As chairman of the Dukakis presidential campaign, Mr. Brountas applied the lessons of discreet, corporate lawyering to a vice president search that including meeting or speaking on the phone with some 200 people before Lloyd Bentsen, a senator from Texas, was chosen.
By then Mr. Brountas had considerable behind-the-scenes experience. He was an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie during the Maine Democrat’s 1972 presidential bid. He also chaired Dukakis’s gubernatorial campaigns.
The two traced their friendship to their first encounters as Harvard Law School classmates, and they bonded over a shared background as ambitious sons of Greek immigrants. “We were very close and stayed close,” Dukakis said.
Mr. Brountas spent his entire legal career at WilmerHale, joining the firm right out of law school when it was called Hale and Dorr. Starting out in corporate and securities law, he turned his attention to high-tech startups and venture capitalists.
“What distinguished him was his impeccable judgment and unwavering, firm moral compass,” Borden said. “From the moment you met Paul, you implicitly trusted him. I really think clients hired him not just for his prodigious legal talent, which was real, but for who he was as a person, which shined through.”
Mr. Brountas “had a charm that was irresistible,” Borden said. “You wanted him to be both your counselor and your friend.”
The youngest of six children, and the only one of his siblings to be born in a hospital, Paul Peter Brountas grew up in Bangor, Maine. His parents, Peter Brountas and Penelope Spiropoulos, were from villages near Sparta in Greece, and the family business was a restaurant. As a boy, Mr. Brountas delivered newspapers and then worked during the breakfast shift at the family’s restaurant before heading to school.
He spoke only Greek on his first day of kindergarten and was in tears when the teacher sent him home. “My mother, who didn’t speak English either, took me by the hand, walked across the street, went to the teacher and said, ‘He stay, he stay,’ ” he recalled in a 2009 Bowdoin College oral history interview. “She turned around and left, and I stayed.”
Mr. Brountas was a champion debater at Bangor High School and attended Bowdoin College on scholarships. While there, he was classmates with future US senator George Mitchell. Upon graduating in 1954, Mr. Brountas was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to attend Oxford University in England, from which he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. En route to England on the Queen Mary, he met another Greek-American, Paul S. Sarbanes, a future US senator from Maryland, who was a Rhodes Scholar.
A two-year stint as an Army intelligence officer in Bordeaux, France, followed – “awfully tough duty,” he later joked to The Washington Post. Admitted as a second-year student in Harvard Law School’s class of 1960, he and Dukakis and Sarbanes became fast friends. At the time, Mr. Brountas and Sarbanes aspired to become US senators, “but Mike said you could do more as governor,” Mr. Brountas later recalled.
“Two of them made it, and I failed,” he joked to the Post in 1988.
“I’m not sure of that,” Dukakis said by phone. “He was probably the best high-tech lawyer in the country.”
In 1963, Mr. Brountas married Lynn Thurston, and they had three children.
“He’s not a complicated man, he’s a thoughtful man,” she told the Globe in 1988 for a profile of her husband. “He thinks things over carefully. He feels it is important to be honest in this world.”
He also placed great faith in his wife’s wisdom. Mr. Brountas considered returning to Maine to run for office, possibly Congress — his three older brothers each served as mayor of Bangor. When Mr. Brountas and his wife discussed this potential change of course, he recalled, “she was very quick to say, ‘If that’s what you want to do, great, but you’ve got a very interesting practice as a young lawyer at Hale and Dorr. What are you going to do in Bangor, Maine, when you lose?’ ”
Ultimately, he told the Globe, “I found the practice exciting. So why move when you find a situation you enjoy so much?”
A private service has been held for Mr. Brountas, who in addition to his wife leaves a son, Paul Jr. of Waltham; two daughters, Jennifer of Boston, and Barrett of Wayland; and two grandchildren.
In 1997, Bowdoin awarded an honorary doctorate to Mr. Brountas, who had served on and led the college’s Board of Overseers and Board of Trustees. He also was part of the commission that recommended Bowdoin become coeducational. “The Bowdoin community owes much to Paul for his extraordinary leadership and the breadth and depth of his contributions to the College, public service, and the practice of law over the course of his remarkable life,” Clayton Rose, Bowdoin’s president, said in a statement.
Mr. Brountas was a gifted storyteller, and a favorite anecdote was about the summer of 1960, when he drove to Los Angeles in his Karmann Ghia with Dukakis to see John F. Kennedy be nominated at the Democratic National Convention. Heading home, they stopped in Las Vegas for a shower and a bite to eat. Mr. Brountas decided they should each spend $5 on slot machines — a tough sell to the famously frugal Dukakis. Mr. Brountas lost his $5. Dukakis won $30 on his first quarter, immediately cashed out, and they jumped back in the Karmann Ghia. It was probably the last time Mr. Brountas encouraged his friend to take a less-than-calculated risk.
As a campaign chairman, “they know me as a person who helps solve problems,” he once told the Globe. “I don’t create them.”