Donald K. Ross, Leading Public Interest Lawyer, Dies at 78

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A Ralph Nader acolyte, helium galvanized students successful the 1970s and promoted societal alteration done legislation, ineligible enactment and governmental pressure.

Donald K. Ross, right, was among the leaders of an antinuclear rally successful  Washington successful  1979. He met with President Jimmy Carter and, from left, Pam Lippe, 1  of the demonstration's organizers, and the statesmanlike  advisor  Anne Wexler.
Credit...Associated Press

Sam Roberts

May 19, 2022, 2:02 p.m. ET

Donald K. Ross, who arsenic an innovative and pragmatic nationalist involvement lawyer and philanthropist galvanized a procreation of jaded students into doing good, died connected Saturday astatine a nursing location successful Salisbury, Conn. He was 78.

His wife, the writer and novelist Helen Klein Ross, said the origin was lymphoma.

Mr. Ross was 1 of the archetypal Nader’s Raiders, the radical of 2 twelve oregon truthful freshly minted instrumentality schoolhouse students mustered by Ralph Nader successful the aboriginal 1970s who challenged authorities and firm bureaucracy, and which aboriginal grew into a nationalist web of user crusaders.

In an email, Mr. Nader praised Mr. Ross for having built “sustainable antiauthoritarian institutions with an bonzer civic property of resilient stamina, motivating skills and relentless absorption connected results.”

Honing the strategies helium devised arsenic pupil assemblage president to revive Fordham University’s famed shot legacy, Mr. Ross was for 5 decades astatine the forefront of movements connected behalf of user protection, authorities ethics, environmentalism, wellness care, voting rights, taxation betterment and entree to wide transit, arsenic good arsenic the question to adjacent atomic powerfulness plants aft the partial meltdown of a reactor astatine Three Mile Island successful Pennsylvania successful 1979.

“Donald’s publication ‘Action for a Change’ offered a blueprint for assemblage pupil activism, with a look that focused connected accomplishments, bite-sized argumentation victories that could cascade into cardinal changes successful governance,” Blair Horner, the enforcement manager of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said successful a statement.



As enforcement manager of that enactment from its founding successful 1973 until 1982, Mr. Ross successfully lobbied for authorities authorities that made authorities much transparent and for a measure that required refundable deposits connected beverage containers.

He besides challenged abuses by inferior companies and the dumping of toxic materials by manufacturers. His enactment spawned the Straphangers Campaign, headed by Gene Russianoff, which monitors wide transit.

“He was, and remained steadfastly truthful for 50 years, the surviving embodiment of the 1970s Nader’s Raiders’ reply to the trap galore successful authorities and academia autumn into — to go gripped by hand-wringing oregon the paralysis of analysis,” said Douglas H. Phelps, the president of U.S. PIRG, the nationalist umbrella radical of authorities organizations that Mr. Ross helped Mr. Nader statesman successful 1970.

Two years aft that, they and their colleagues had already enlisted 350,000 students connected 50 campuses successful 13 states to prosecute successful civic advocacy, typically financed by pupil enactment fees.

Mr. Ross “created dynamic and lasting organizations” that inspired and trained young radical to beryllium “engaged, blase and almighty actors successful a democracy,” said John Richard, president of Mr. Nader’s Essential Information probe group. Lee Wasserman, who succeeded Mr. Ross arsenic the main administrative serviceman of the Rockefeller Family Fund, which Mr. Ross ran from 1985 to 1999, said that Mr. Ross’s “exuberant insights and originative solutions were infectious and helping to nurture a procreation of nationalist involvement advocates.”

As what the money called the “first nationalist involvement advocator hired to tally a nationalist foundation,” Mr. Ross directed grants to promote national participation, authorities accountability and economical justness for women.

He sowed truthful galore enduring organizations, said Mark Green, different archetypal Nader’s Raider and New York City’s archetypal elected nationalist advocate, that helium became “a Johnny Appleseed of nationalist interest.”

Donald Kemp Ross was calved connected June 29, 1943, successful the Bedford Park conception of the Bronx. His father, Hugh Ross, was an head for the Conservation Foundation; his mother, Helen (Kemp) Ross, was a homemaker.

After graduating from Fordham Preparatory School, helium attended Fordham University successful the Bronx, where, arsenic pupil assemblage president, helium was instrumental successful reviving nine shot aft a 10-year hiatus successful the sport’s affluent past there. (That acquisition “taught maine however to organize,” Mr. Ross told The Fordham News successful 2015).

After hitchhiking to California successful 1964 and sleeping connected the level of the property country astatine the Republican National Convention successful San Francisco, astatine which Barry Goldwater was nominated for president (he was, helium erstwhile recalled, “eager for the accidental to spot up adjacent however authorities worked”), helium earned a bachelor’s grade successful English successful 1965.

He served successful the Peace Corps from 1965 to 1967. He took the archetypal airplane formation of his beingness to scope Nigeria, wherever helium taught astatine a Roman Catholic ngo school, and returned aft 2 years with malaria. He graduated from New York University School of Law successful 1970.

His matrimony to Susan Deller ended successful divorce. In summation to his wife, whom helium met astatine Studio 54 astatine a payment for Abbie Hoffman (the archetypal and past clip either of them visited that disco), helium is survived by their 2 daughters, Margaret Ross and Katherine Ross, and a son, Mike Ross, from his archetypal marriage. A sister, Mary Ellen Ross, died earlier him.


Credit...Jane Beiles for The New York Times

He initiated a fig of spinoffs from Mr. Nader’s enactment Public Citizen, which presses for authorities and firm accountability; collaborated with Mr. Nader connected “Action for a Change: A Student’s Manual for Public Interest Organizing” (1972); and wrote “A Public Citizen’s Action Manual” (1973).

Mr. Ross was a coordinator of the antinuclear rallies held successful Washington and New York successful 1979. With Arthur Malkin, helium founded a nationalist involvement instrumentality steadfast successful Albany successful 1984 and aboriginal an offshoot, M+R Strategic Services, to counsel advocacy organizations.

He managed the Environmental Grantmakers Association from 1989 to 1998; directed the National Campaign to Reform Juvenile Justice Systems from 2009 to 2017; and was president of the situation enactment Greenpeace USA successful 2011.

Mr. Ross had been an indifferent pupil successful instrumentality school. He often chopped classes truthful helium could instrumentality a teaching occupation successful a nationalist schoolhouse to debar the draught and enactment successful Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s statesmanlike campaign.

“He said moving astatine a regular instrumentality steadfast ne'er funny him,” his woman recalled successful an email. “He wanted to usage instrumentality to alteration lives and was much funny successful societal alteration than societal work, which changed the beingness of lone 1 idiosyncratic astatine a time.”

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