Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Antonio Garrigues 1904 - 2004

Of the lawyer Antonio Garrigues Díaz-Cañabate, who has died aged 100, it can certainly be said that he lived in interesting times. He was a privileged observer of his homeland’s turbulent century, born under a monarchy, growing up under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, holding high office in both the republic that succeeded it and the dictatorship that followed, then joining the first cabinet of the monarchy that steered Spain back into the democratic mainstream.
Although he never joined a political party, he was close to the epicentre of Spanish politics for most of his life. Despite his signal services to the Franco dictatorship, as its ambassador to Washington and later the Vatican, he played an honourable part in the transition by softening the legal constraints on political activity and quitting the cabinet in the face of efforts by the Francoist old guard to frustrate much-needed change.
He built the law partnership he founded into one of Europe’s biggest and was a crucial facilitator of the influx of foreign capital that modernised Spain’s economy and transformed its social fabric. He chaired some of the country’s largest businesses and was noted as a writer in the fields of philosophy, theology, culture and current affairs.
Garrigues was born in Madrid, son of a successful lawyer, in 1904; his mother died when he was quite young. After an outstandingly successful studentship at Madrid’s Central University, he qualified as a lawyer and practised until 1931, beginning in his father’s practice. Under the provisional government of the Republic, the 27-year-old Garrigues was appointed director-general of registries and notaries in the justice ministry.
In the same year he married Helen Walker, from Des Moines, Iowa, daughter of a senior executive in the US multinational ITT. She bore him 11 children, three of whom died in infancy. When Madrid was under siege in the latter stages of the Spanish Civil War, Walker’s passport and the couple’s close friendship with a young American visitor, Joseph Kennedy, son of the US ambassador to London, rescued them from many a close shave. The city was defended by edgy Republican militias, and Garrigues was secretly giving what he described as purely humanitarian aid to their enemies.
After the war, he abstained from active politics, but moved in monarchist circles not closely connected to the regime and, in the 1950s, in discussion groups run by dissident priests. The death of his 35-year-old wife left him widowed in 1941. His brother Joaquín, Spain’s most prominent commercial lawyer, joined him in 1941 to set up the Garrigues law firm. The practice was later remodelled as a partnership on Anglo-Saxon lines, a startling innovation in Spain, and grew steadily. Multinationals seeking to expand in Spain made Garrigues, a frequent transatlantic traveller, their lawyer of choice.
In March 1962, Garrigues received an unexpected summons to be appointed Spanish ambassador to the United States. As Franco’s emissary to John F. Kennedy’s short-lived Camelot, he was able to use his former friendship with the president’s late brother Joe as an entrée into the inner circle; he regularly dined at the White House.
If the appointment to the Washington embassy was a particularly sensitive mission, no less was his next diplomatic posting, to the Holy See during the reforming papacy of Paul VI. There he served from 1964 to 1972, encompassing the Second Vatican Council which reassessed the Church’s stance on many issues, temporal and spiritual. A devout Catholic – he said he reached that position after a long journey from agnosticism – Garrigues was broadly in tune with the spirit of renewal and opening-up, despite the stiff resistance it met in conservative quarters at home.
He was involved in some early reformist initiatives within the Spanish establishment, contributing to a draft revision of the Francoist constitution which found no favour with his superiors in Madrid. On his return to Spain, Garrigues resumed his law practice and his other commercial interests. The law firm expanded to 1,200 partners. Garrigues chaired the broadcasting company SER, Citroën Hispania, the Spanish-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and numerous educational and cultural charities, along with an array of other directorships.
Following Franco’s death, Garrigues was appointed in December 1975 justice minister in the first government named by the new King Juan Carlos, under Carlos Arias Navarro. He was seen as one of the more liberal members of an administration that, for all the monarch’s democratic leanings, was weakly led by Arias in the face of reactionary pressures from the “bunker” of the old regime. Garrigues stood down after seven months, disenchanted with the failure to open up a broader range of political liberties. His main achievement was the repeal of the repressive laws under which Franco had sent political opponents to face the firing squad. His son Joaquín later served as minister for public works in the government led by Adolfo Suárez of the Union of the Democratic Centre, while the father returned to business, remaining active for many years.
Garrigues leaves a considerable body of writings in various genres, from articles in learned journals of jurisprudence to newspaper columns and volumes of essays: Diálogos conmigo mismo (Dialogues With Myself, 1978); Reflexión sobre las cosas que pasan (Thoughts on Things that Happen, 1984); and poetry, including En la encrucijada de Roma (At the Crossroads in Rome, 1986).
In January, on the eve of Garrigues’ 100th birthday, King Juan Carlos I raised him to the nobility as the Marqués de Garrigues. He held many other honours, among them the Grand Crosses of Spain’s premier orders – Isabel la Católica, Carlos III and San Raimundo – and of the Order of Malta, along with French and Portuguese decorations, and was elected at the age of 80 to the Spanish Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. He died peacefully at his Madrid home.

  • Antonio Garrigues Díaz-Cañabate, lawyer, born 9 January 1904, died 24 February 2004
This was written for the Daily Telegraph; I think it was published in a different form, edited together with material from other writers.