Presidential assistant, author and world traveler dies at 95


Sherwin Markman was so modest that many of his fellow residents at Cathedral Village in upper Roxborough did not know that the prominent lawyer, author and multi-sport athlete had been a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and had his own office in the White House.

Markman, a sailing enthusiast who once lived on a boat with his wife Peggy, died Oct. 16 at 94, but it wasn’t until a memorial service at Cathedral Village last month that neighbors learned about his extraordinary life.

Dozens of guests listened to memories of Markman and his role close to the levers of political power. He was proud of a framed handwritten personal letter from President Johnson that read: “No one in the White House was more dedicated to the country or more loyal to it.”

“It was great to hear people say so many wonderful things about him,” Markman's son, Stephen, of Mt. Airy, told us after the service, adding that his father had enjoyed living at Cathedral Village, where “he found so many interesting people.”

“I went there to see him every other day,” Stephen said. “We'd go to Morris Arboretum or downtown for a jazz event. We'd go to dinner at Sakura and Cin Cin in Chestnut Hill, his favorites, and Olive Garden.”

And movies were always a favorite, Stephen said. 

“The last movie he saw was 'Oppenheimer’.”

Markman's brother, Dr. David Markman, 86, an ophthalmologist, told us, “I adored and loved my brother. He was my idol and mentor. I went to Harvard, but he was smarter than I was. I could never live up to him.”

David Markman, 86, who began his medical practice 60 years ago and still treats patients, said, “Sherwin and I would go skiing and play in golf tournaments in Ireland in our 70s and 80s. I wanted to be a pro golfer when I was young and got some holes-in-one, but I was not allowed into the country club in Des Moines (Iowa) because I am Jewish. Later, they did allow in Sherwin, although he did not even play golf because he had such a prominent position in the White House. He was the first Jewish person they ever let in.”

Sherwin Markman was born and raised in Des Moines and graduated from the University of Iowa and Yale Law School. He built a major career as a trial lawyer first in Iowa, then in Washington, D.C., at the Hogan & Hartson law firm, where he represented high-profile clients. 

Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy once commented that Markman's argument in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a client was the best oral argument he had ever heard. 

As a young lawyer in Iowa, Markman became involved in Democratic Party politics, attending the national convention as a delegate from Iowa three times. He served as the state executive director for Gov. Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign in 1956. 

In 1965, he was tapped by LBJ to be special assistant to the president, moving his family to Washington, D.C., to serve in the West Wing of the White House for three years.

His family at that time included his first wife, Marilyn, whom he married in 1950 when he was 21 (a 26-year marriage), and his three young children.

“Dad set up the Glassboro Conference with [then Soviet Premier Alexei] Kosygin and LBJ,” Stephen said. 

Markman also visited various underprivileged urban areas across the U.S., engaging directly with communities to gather insights on their perspectives regarding the new programs, Stephen said. 

“LBJ wanted to know what people there thought of his new [Great Society] programs,” Stephen said. “My dad turned in really long reports, although he had been told to keep them short. LBJ used those reports to cajole senators into voting for civil rights legislation.” 

Sherwin, whose parents were born in Ukraine, lived on a small sailboat with his second wife, Peggy, for eight years after retiring from his law practice. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed all over the Middle East and Caribbean. 

“Other couples they met trying to do the same thing usually broke up,” David Markman said. “Being together 24/7 is rough, but they both loved it. Sherwin had remarkable intelligence and could fix anything.”

Markman was also a prolific writer of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry. Three of his books were published: "The Election," "Chief of Staff" and "Lyndon Johnson Remembered.” He was interviewed about his experiences in politics before the LBJ era in a widely-viewed episode of the PBS show, "American Life."

Markman was athletic all of his life. He was an outstanding basketball and track star in high school. He won a championship in squash, played tennis at a high level, skied all over the world and shot his age in golf in his late 80s. 

Markman is survived by his three children – Stephen, Nicole and Stacy; stepdaughter, Vicki; grandson, William; six step-grandchildren, brother David and his children. Markman was predeceased by his wife of 42 years, Kathryn "Peggy," who died in 2022; her son, Scott; Markman's brother, Jerry, and Markman's first wife, Marilyn.

Len Lear can be reached at