Howard Monderer, a longtime senior attorney with NBC in Washington, died Aug. 14 at Maplewood Park Place senior living community in Bethesda, Md., of a "probable malignant pleura effusion due to melanoma." He was 92.
After graduating from the City College of New York and Harvard Law, Monderer worked for a small Wall Street firm before joining the NBC Law Department in 1952. He opened NBC's Washington legal office in 1958, in part as a response to increasing federal regulation of network TV. He represented the company before the FCC, federal, district and circuit courts, and, in some cases, Congress.
At one time the attorneys for NBC TV stations and the New York and Los Angeles compliance groups reported to Monderer. He was also NBC's representative to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) for most of a decade and was NBC's first ombudsman.
Dick Wiley, Wiley Rein chairman Emeritus and former FCC chair, said of Monderer: "He was a terrific lawyer and solid representative of NBC in Washington. I enjoyed working with him in my years at the FCC and thereafter."
"Howard was a true gentleman and I happen to know he perfected the art of reading upside down documents in front of him when visiting the FCC," said Preston Padden, former top ABC and Fox executive, who knew Monderer when Padden was at Fox.
Communications attorney John Hane, currently president of ATSC 3.0 consortium Spectrum Co., worked with Monderer after Hane joined the NBC Washington office.
"I was hired as NBC’s Washington Counsel in 1993 and Rick Cotton, then NBC’s General Counsel (now head of the New York Port Authority) kept Howard on for a while to train and mentor me," he told B&C. "[T]here was never a better mentor. Howard had an innate practical wisdom. With a few words or a simple gesture he could communicate more useful insight than any business success or self-help book."
"NBC persuaded Howard, a New York City native, to spend a single year in Washington to open a law office for the network," said Hane. "He came reluctantly, but after a year, he wouldn’t leave D.C. It’s hard to imagine today how large the three television networks loomed in American life in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Howard was in the thick of it, and he loved it. Robert Redford made a critically acclaimed film about one of Howard’s cases: Quiz Show.
"Howard was always sunny, never rattled, and kept everything in perspective. Howard taught me the importance of staying in touch with your professional network even when there’s no business to be done. He did it by arranging thousands of lunches over the years (half of the people reading this are chuckling now, remembering lunches with Howard). Coming from the billable hour mentality of a law firm, it seemed unproductive to me at first. But Howard knew taking time every week simply to enjoy the company of people we work with is good business and part of making a good life. He always enjoyed his work because he enjoyed the people he worked with.
"Across five decades of work he claimed never to have taken a sick day because he never got sick. I saw him in May – over lunch, of course - and he stood by that claim. He was a wonderful friend and I was exceptionally lucky to have worked with him early in my career."
After initially retiring but being called back as a contractor, Monderer retired in 2005.
Following his retirement from NBC, Monderer and his wife, Claire, traveled extensively, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe and many "out-of-the-way" places in between, NBC noted.
Survivors include three sons, Benjamin, Jonathan, and David, a daughter Rachel, and three grandchildren.
A celebration of Monderer's life will be held Sept. 21, 2-4 p.m. at Maplewood Park Place, 9707 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, Md.