Charles M. Haar, Adviser to Three Presidents, Dies At 91

Harvard Law School professor emeritus Charles M. Haar, known for his ability to identify innovative solutions to issues of land use and environmental policy, died of congestive heart failure last month in Miami. He was 91.

In the classroom, Haar taught on legal matters related to urban planning, environmental law, corporate finance, housing law, and other fields. He put that expertise to work as an adviser to three presidents and a multitude of projects worldwide.

“He was a real polymath,” said University of Florida law professor Michael A. Wolf, who worked as a research assistant to Haar as a graduate student and continued to collaborate with him for thirty years.

Colleagues said that Haar’s career had a lasting impact on others in the field he helped pioneer.

“He had a long, productive life,” said Thompson Potter, who worked as Haar’s assistant at the Law School for 15 years. “He was a very self-made person. He created a field of law and had a big impact on what people feel about city planning.”

Before receiving his degree from the Law School in 1948, Haar served under General Douglas MacArthur’s command in Naval intelligence.

He began teaching at the Law School in 1952 and was appointed as professor emeritus in 1991.

In the 1960s, Haar began working in government, serving as an adviser on urban development and the environment in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations.

He chaired Johnson’s National Task Force on the Preservation of Natural Beauty and later helped organize the first White House conference on the environment in 1965.

Haar wrote several books, including one about housing law entitled “Suburbs under Siege” and one called “Mastering Boston Harbor: Courts, Dolphins, and Imperiled Waters,” which was published in 2005. Both of those works are now featured in a display case dedicated to Haar by the circulation desk at the Law School library.

“Mastering Boston Harbor” discussed Haar’s involvement as a court-appointed special master on a case filed by the city of Quincy against the Boston sewer system. As a result of the trial, the state passed the Massachusetts Water Resources Act and launched a clean-up of Boston Harbor.

Haar’s role “required a combination of knowledge of the law, some passion, some political ingenuity, and pragmatism,” said Steven G. Horowitz, who worked with Haar on the case and was his student at the Law School.

Wolf noted that Haar could analyze complicated situations quickly to generate possible solutions.

“He could cut to the kernel of an issue immediately,” Wolf said. “He didn’t think and ponder as we normal mortals do. His ideas came out of his head fully formed. It was an amazing thing to watch.”

Haar also served as a fellow for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge for half a century.

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