Robert Coulson 1924 - 2017

Robert Coulson, an international leader in the field of arbitration and dispute resolution, died on September 9, 2017 in Stamford Hospital, Connecticut, following a stroke. He was 93. He was president and CEO of the American Arbitration Association for two decades and a tireless advocate for more efficient and equitable alternatives to litigation.


“Almost any human activity is more profitable than worrying a dreary lawsuit through the courts,” he wrote in How to Stay Out of Court in 1968. “More often than not, some better method for resolution can be found than forcing an opponent to try his case in court.”


He was born in New Rochelle, New York, to Abby Stewart Coulson and Robert Earl Coulson. He grew up in New York City and spent summers in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He has lived in Riverside, Connecticut, for the past 40 years. He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, in 1943, Yale University 1950, and Harvard Law School 1953. He served in the U.S. Army during World War Two in the Harbor Craft Company in England.


After law school he practiced law in Boston, and then in New York City with his father’s firm Whitman, Ransom, & Coulson. In 1963, he became executive vice president of the American Arbitration Association and served as president and CEO from 1973 to 1994. With his talent for speaking and writing, he gave speeches across the U.S. and around the world and wrote numerous articles and eight books on the topic of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). His books include How to Stay Out of Court, The Termination Handbook and Fighting Fair. At the AAA, he helped to dramatically expand the use of ADR in America and promoted arbitration through the International Council on Commercial Arbitration.


In New York, his volunteer activities included chairman of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, vice president of the Police Athletic League, and various Bar Association projects. He was a member of the New York Yacht Club for 67 years and of Riverside Yacht Club for 40 years.


He was a lifelong sailor who started racing a Brutal Beast in Marblehead at age seven and owned many sailboats, from small boats to frostbite dinghies to a 40-foot cutter, the Finn MacCumhaill. He won the National Junior Sailing Championship Sears Trophy twice. At Yale his team was the national intercollegiate champions for three years, a record that still stands, and he was a member of the College Sailing Hall of Fame. He sailed the Finn for 20 years, winning trophies on New York Yacht Club cruises, the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, the St. Pete to Havana Race in 1950, and many others. In Riverside he continued to win races with his 30-foot sailboat Finn Ratoon.


After retirement he served as an arbitrator on commercial and labor disputes. He wrote several novels based on offshore races he’d been on and a memoir titled A Cheerful Skeptic, Sailing Through Life. He enjoyed travel, painting, walking his dogs, some whom he took on local races, and volunteering in the community.


He is survived by his wife of 57 years Cynthia Coulson, their sons Crocker, Cromwell, and Christopher Coulson, his daughter from his first marriage, Deirdre Macnab, and his brother Richard Coulson, along with ten grandchildren, Saskia, Calder, Casimir, Capability, Callum, Maud, Calypso, and Neve Coulson, and Ian and Graham Macnab. He was predeceased by his son, Cotton Coulson.


A celebration of his life will take place in October at the Riverside Yacht Club.