Robinson Nottingham

Age 70 : Insurance executive and Johns Hopkins University trustee was an avid reader and boating enthusiast.

"He liked to go to Hopkins lacrosse games and mow the lawn at the fraternity house," his wife said.

May 26, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun Reporter

Robinson Kendall Nottingham, the former executive vice president of global insurance giant American International Group Inc. and a trustee of the Johns Hopkins University, died May 20 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, several days after suffering a stroke. He was 70.

Mr. Nottingham's 38-year career at AIG was hardly the stuff of gray-suited stereotype, offering him adventures in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War era and close calls in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

He climbed the corporate ladder in New York but remained faithful to the Baltimore institutions that nurtured his intellectual development and became was a major donor to Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies.

"Ken was a man of character, courage and loyalty," former AIG CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg wrote in a statement that will be read at a memorial service this week. "If you were in a foxhole, he was the partner you would want to have. There are not many men you can say that about."

Mr. Nottingham was born in Bolton Hill and attended the now-closed Corpus Christi School. After graduating in 1955 from Polytechnic Institute, he enrolled at Johns Hopkins, where he majored in political science and was president of the Delta Phi fraternity.

Nearly 50 years later, when he was invited to serve on the university's Board of Trustees, Mr. Nottingham would take advantage of requisite board meetings in Baltimore to stop by the fraternity house in Charles Village.

"He liked to go to Hopkins lacrosse games and mow the lawn at the fraternity house," said his wife, Elizabeth L. Nottingham, also a Baltimore native.

After earning his bachelor's degree in 1959, Mr. Nottingham spent eight years as an intelligence officer in the Navy based at Pearl Harbor and Washington, specializing in Southeast Asia and Africa. He retired with the rank of lieutenant commander, but his insurance career took him and his young family back to that part of the world.

As a regional manager with Hong Kong-based AIG, Mr. Nottingham spent four years in Bangkok, Thailand, where he managed the insurance of U.S. defense contractors and oil companies across Southeast Asia.

"I was always a little worried when he would get in the plane and go to Saigon for a couple of days," said Mrs. Nottingham.

He also worked as a managing director in Nigeria, "not exactly a holiday resort," Mr. Greenberg said.

Perhaps Mr. Nottingham's most daring adventure came in 1979, when he was managing AIG's Middle East operations and was sent to pre-revolutionary Iran to safeguard the company's assets as fears mounted about the toppling of the U.S.-backed shah. When the Ayatollah Khomeini was swept into power by popular revolt, Mr. Nottingham was trapped in the country for several weeks, "keeping a low profile" as anti-American protests swirled outside his hotel window, said his son, Charles D. Nottingham of Fredericksburg, Va.

He escaped on the last commercial flight to leave Iran for years - carrying not just briefcases full of cash, but also deeply discounted tins of caviar he bought from an airport vendor, his son said.

In 1960, Mr. Nottingham married Elizabeth Hanson LeViness, whom he courted while she was a student at Bryn Mawr School. Their eldest son, Robinson Kendall Nottingham Jr., a Washington attorney and real estate businessman, died of cancer last year.

The Nottinghams lived for about two decades in South Orange, N.J., before moving to Washington in 2000. In 2007, Mr. Nottingham retired from AIG as executive vice president and chairman of subsidiary American Life Insurance Co. of Wilmington, Del.

Before joining the Hopkins board of trustees about five years ago, Mr. Nottingham served on the advisory board of the university's School of Advanced International Studies, and was a major financial donor there in recent years, as well as frequent adviser and career counselor to students.

Mrs. Nottingham said her husband was a "great bon vivant" and "huge reader" who devoured histories and biographies. The couple kept a yacht near their vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla., and Mr. Nottingham also enjoyed boating and fishing. He was a member of numerous social clubs, including the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, the Chevy Chase Club and the Johns Hopkins Club.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at St. David's Episcopal Church, 5150 Macomb St. in Northwest Washington.

Mr. Nottingham is survived by his wife and son, and two grandsons.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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