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Biography of Orville H. Schell, Jr.

Orville H. Schell, Jr. was a prominent New York City lawyer who passionately championed the causes of civil and human rights at home and abroad.

Schell was the vice chairman of the Helsinki Watch Committee and chairman of Americas Watch from 1981 until his death six years later.  A frequent presence at peace parades and demonstrations, Schell organized a group of a thousand lawyers who marched on Washington to protest the U.S. military campaign in Cambodia in the late 1960s. Through his work with Americas Watch, he often traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean to investigate human rights violations. In 1979, he led a delegation to Argentina, where he spoke out sharply against that country’s lawyers for their reluctance to defend victims of repression.

Born on July 11, 1908, in New Rochelle, New York, Orville Schell graduated from Yale College and Harvard Law School. After receiving his law degree, Schell began working for a New York City law firm in 1933. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and then spent the remainder of his professional career as a lawyer on Wall Street. He was president of the New York City Bar Association from 1972 to 1974 and served as the managing partner of the Hughes, Hubbard & Reed law firm.

In addition to his work as a lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Schell pursued his passion for New York’s cultural scene as chairman of the New York City Ballet and as head of an advisory council appointed by the mayor to preserve Broadway’s theaters. He was also a trustee of the South Street Seaport Museum and of Vassar College and served on the boards of the New York Urban Coalition and the Regional Plan Association of New York.

Orville Schell's friends and colleagues established the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights in 1989 to honor his commitment to the legal profession and his determination to enlist it in the struggle for human rights.