Michael Stephen Horwatt of Reston, Virginia, died on Friday, August 14, 2020, just shy of 79 years old, with his daughters by his side and the rest of his family holding vigil on Zoom. Ultimately, it was severe spinal stenosis that killed him, but Covid-19 was a cruel collaborator, keeping him isolated at his assisted living facility. Michael called it “emotional malnutrition.”
Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in McLean Virginia, Michael learned to stand up for his beliefs at an early age. Michael always fought for others, too. He believed racial integration was good for everyone and rallied the local SCA Presidents to go to Richmond to advocate for such in front of the Virginia General Assembly.
In 1961, Michael was an organizer of the first march on Washington as a leader of the Grinnell 14 to support President Kennedy’s reluctance to resume atmospheric nuclear testing. President Kennedy, who was in California at the time, heard that the group was picketing and on a hunger strike at the White House and directed United States National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy to admit the group. Telling them that even Gandhi drank juice during the hunger strike, McBundy offered them orange juice. The group rejected the offer staying true to their fast. They also collected signatures and delivered a petition to the Soviet Embassy to request that the Soviets stop nuclear testing. This was the first modern direct action on arms control. One hundred twenty other colleges and universities followed.
Michael said to communicate that the danger of nuclear testing affected everyone, it was important to speak a language they could hear — to “open their ears.” The students cut their hair and wore suits and ties so as not to look like “beatniks.” In 2014 at a panel discussion about this event, Michael said, “Consciousness about getting your message heard is the challenge of the modern age. The problem is not in a repertoire of solutions, the problem is in getting a political consensus to implement them. We are now at a point where there is such a cleavage in thinking that people have a sense of reality that is totally at war with others that disagree with them. When you’re angry and you’re feeling self-righteous and ‘how could they be so stupid’, you are sure to do nothing. [The task is] finding creative ways to shape a policy that falls unevenly on people.” Michael was exemplary at that.
In 1977, Michael was appointed chairman of a committee to advise the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors whether to relocate the county’s judicial and administrative complex from Fairfax City to Fairfax County. The Board of Supervisors named representatives of the many divergent interests in the county. As Michael put it, “The members looked at the same clock and saw a different time.” Despite the controversial and highly divisive issue of relocating a local government’s headquarters, the committee reached virtually unanimity.
At one point, the committee was divided on one provision. Michael voted against his own position because he felt that there needed to be more of a consensus for the endeavor to be successful.
He served as chairman of two more committees on relocation of the county government. One involved recommending specific sites for the new county complex while the other involved a master plan for the new government center. Again, as Michael said, “these committees started far apart and ended one vote short of unanimous.”
Michael met Sally Singer as a freshman at Grinnell College, and they married the day after graduation. He graduated with bachelor’s degrees in political science and voice. He then went on to law school at the University of Virginia.
Upon graduation, he went to work with his mentor, antitrust lawyer H. Graham Morison. Morison was United States Attorney under Truman. From 1968 to 1970, Michael worked as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney under Robert F. Horan. Eventually, he opened the first law firm in Reston, Horwatt and Kenny (on Lake Anne Plaza), which ultimately became Horwatt, Kenny, Glennon, Goodman, and Shultz.
From 1978 to 1984, he served as a substitute judge for the General District Court.
He joined Odin, Feldman, and Pittleman and then was recruited by Dickstein, Shapiro, and Morin as managing partner. In 2000, he became managing partner of Buchanan Ingersoll. Finally, he left to open his own law office as a solo practitioner. During his career, he practiced First Amendment law, representing the Loudoun Times-Mirror, among other newspapers, and practiced land use and zoning law.
Michael also shaped internet law in Virginia. He spearheaded the Virginia Electronic Signatures Act. He garnered support for the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act in Virginia.
His substantial background also includes extensive experience in economic development, first with the Economic Development Administration of the United States Department of Commerce and later in many other contexts. He also excelled in his practice of business strategies and implementation, civil rights law, and criminal defense law. His career spanned five decades, over which he helped countless people.
Mr. Horwatt became vice chairman of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. He was named 1981 Citizen of the Year by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and received the Washington Post/Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Association Citation of Merit for service to the community in 1983. In 1991 he ran for the Democratic nomination for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors against Audrey Moore.
Michael was predeceased by his parents, Saul and Lillian Horwatt of McLean Virginia. He is survived by his former wife and dearest friend, Sally Brodsky (Bob); his daughter Karin Horwatt Cather, of Scottsdale, AZ and his daughter Elizabeth (Beth) Horwatt Marks (Greg Pepus) of Leesburg, VA; His brother, David Horwatt (Jean) of Los Angeles, CA; his grandchildren, Jalyn and Jacob Marks and Gabriel and Noah Cather; His nephews, Joshua and Elijah Horwatt, and his great nieces and nephews.
Michael was active in Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, participating in the choir and in Torah Study. In lieu of flowers, please direct donations to the Humane Society of the United States and the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation choir fund.
A memorial service will be held for Michael on June 9, 2021 at 9:30AM. It will take place, rain or shine, outdoors on Lake Anne Plaza in front of the Washington Plaza Baptist Church adjacent to the lake and the Bob Simon statue. If you will be able to attend, please RSVP by June 2, 2021 to Michael.Horwatt.Memorial@gmail.com so there will be enough chairs. If you would like to say a few words, please let the family know at that email address, as well.