When he was a child in North Carolina, Winston McDonald Haythe, ’63, resigned himself to being picked last for sports teams.
“On the ball field, my stock was zero,” he said. But just an hour later, when it was time to choose people for the spelling match, “oh, did my stock rise.”
He decided early on: “I don’t plan to survive in life by my brawn or strength. I think it’s going to be better to study. So that just went out the window with me then, and I didn’t worry about it anymore.”
His intellectual curiosity first brought him to Missouri State, then led to a career in law and education in Washington, D.C.
“I like elite environments, and I don’t mean elite as in snobbishness, but really good. The law firm I worked for was that way. The Judge Advocate General’s School was that way. My law school was that way, and so was Missouri State. Missouri State was my initial foundation. It was a launching pad for the world, and what was yet to come.”
Starting out in higher education
Haythe’s sister and brother-in-law moved to Springfield in the 1950s. “My sophomore year of high school, I took my first flight on an airline.” He liked what he saw. “I thought: I’ll go to college 1,000 miles away. And that’s what I did, and I loved it.”
“I kid you not, I relate to both,” he said. “You know how they say your left brain is your creative side, right brain is the other side? Well, my brain changes at sundown.”
As an undergrad, he was active in many academic groups and served as news editor of the Standard newspaper. He was a student teacher at Greenwood Laboratory School.
He met one of his best friends for life, Clarence E. McElroy, ’63, in P.E. class in 1959.
“We were the nonathletic types … I guess klutzy is the colloquial term!” McElroy said. “We just bonded. From there, we would meet up to study or have coffee in the Bears Den. We became buddies.”
Haythe was studious, kind and steady, yet social, McElroy said. “I think Winston is a very distinguished person. He never had anything bad to say about anybody, and he is loyal. You could confide personal things to him and you never had to worry about it being repeated.”
Even today, the two correspond by phone, text or email about once a month.
McElroy went on to run a family business, Midwest Door and Window, while Haythe was in ROTC, the Army’s college-based officer training program. That means Haythe was commissioned the day he graduated, but his active duty was delayed.
Haythe taught English and math in Missouri for a year, then applied to law schools and moved to Virginia to attend the College of William & Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law (the nation’s oldest law school). There, he received a Juris Doctor degree.
“I say I’m the original ‘Forrest Gump,’ because I just fall into situations in life.”
Working ‘at the apex of the law’
In 1966, Haythe found his next “situation.” A prominent law school professor helped him identify D.C. firms where he might work during the summer.
“I came to Washington that spring break with my road map,” he said.
Later, to his professor, Haythe said: “I really liked Rhyne & Rhyne, and I hope they liked me.”
Rhyne & Rhyne, a boutique firm, was an example of the elite environments to which Haythe gravitates: Charles S. Rhyne had successfully argued major cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1957 became the youngest-ever president of the American Bar Association. Rhyne was on the cover of Time magazine in 1958.
Haythe got the summer job.
He graduated from law school in 1967, and was assigned to the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School, or JAG.
In 1969, after postgraduate work at the University of Virginia School of Law, Haythe joined Rhyne & Rhyne.
“My first job out of law school, I was working at the apex of the law and having a great time. I worked in major litigation all over the nation.”
But new federal laws would quickly change his trajectory.
Handling federal legislation, teaching others
One of the first modern federal environmental laws — the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — became effective in January 1970.
Some of the clients Haythe represented at Rhyne & Rhyne were power companies that were dealing with environmental standards and impact statements related to this new law. Because of Haythe’s experience with these cases, he was offered a job as special counsel to the Atomic Energy Commission.
He was there for one year when another new agency, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, tapped him to become assistant general counsel for enforcement.
“I was in charge of nationwide litigation,” he said. “I was still in the Army Reserve all this time, too, with really wonderful assignments.”
In the late 1970s, he earned a Master of Laws degree from the JAG School. In 1982, he was invited to join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a senior administrative role. “I was not out on the road trying the individual cases, as I had been previously.”
That allowed him to accept a legislative fellowship in the U.S. Senate, focusing on environmental issues in the Great Lakes region. He was also able to circle back to an old passion: teaching.
For example, he was part of a small team that put a course together on negotiation skills that was taught nationally for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We did a similar thing for a course that was taught to EPA and state environmental personnel.”
He served on the staff and faculty of the JAG School, attaining the rank of colonel. He also taught paralegal courses at the University of Maryland University College for 14 years.
In his final year there, he was awarded the “Teacher of the Year Award” by written ballot vote of the faculty at large.
He only stopped teaching in Maryland when the North American Free Trade Agreement was being drafted, and he was needed in Mexico. “From ’92 to ’95, I went coast to coast, border to border, as Mexican environmental personnel were being trained by U.S. experts.”
He and a team of scientists and technical experts eventually provided training to more than 500 Mexican professionals on issues related to inspections, water quality and hazardous waste disposal.
“That was extremely rewarding.”
Moving with a distinguished crowd
For more than a decade now, Haythe has been an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he teaches a three-hour course on negotiations. For the most part, he is retired from other jobs.
He earned the Legion of Merit, one of the highest noncombat awards, from the United States Army after 31 years of commissioned service. He now lives in the middle of D.C.
with his “bodyguard,” a Chihuahua named Mister Billy.
“He’s all of four pounds, and he eats fresh blueberries every morning.”
Haythe is also very active with the Cosmos Club, a members-only social club that offers intellectual and cultural programs. Its website says members must be “distinguished in science, literature, the arts or public service.” Haythe was invited to join in 2000.
The law, teaching and all matters intellectual are still exciting to him.
“I think one of the initial motivating factors for me to go to law school was that I would learn, shall we say, ‘the buttons of power,’ and how to push them and when to push them to effect change for the betterment of humankind. That’s what it was all about.”