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Roy L. Steinheimer Jr., Former W&L Law School Dean, Dies at 98

Roy Lee Steinheimer Jr., the dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law from 1968 to 1983, and the Robert E.R. Huntley Professor of Law Emeritus at W&L, died on Thursday, Jan. 8, in Lexington. He was 98.

“Roy Steinheimer’s deanship was a pivotal one for Washington and Lee’s Law School,” said W&L President Ken Ruscio. “He left a genuine legacy, and more than any other individual shaped the Law School that exists today. His contributions were profound, and we shall be forever grateful for his service and dedication to the University.”

During Steinheimer’s landmark tenure as dean, the Law School moved into its current headquarters, Lewis Hall, welcomed its first women students, further diversified its student body, and strengthened its national profile.

“Dean Steinheimer made the Law School a truly national institution and provided it with a vision for teaching, scholarship and professional service,” said Nora V. Demleitner, the dean of the W&L Law School and the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professor of Law. “Personally, I consider it the greatest honor and a powerful responsibility to be the Steinheimer Professor. It is not only his vision as a dean but also his impact as a teacher that lives on through our graduates.”

Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. was born on Dec. 2, 1916, in Dodge City, Kansas, to Roy L. Steinheimer Sr. and Nettie E. Steinheimer. He grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas. He received his A.B. in economics in 1937 from the University of Kansas and his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1940. He practiced law with Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City for 10 years before returning to the University of Michigan, where he taught from 1950 to 1968.

“Early on, I was interested in what lawyers did,” he told W&L Law magazine in 2002. “When I was in high school, I would slip into the courtroom in town and sit in on trials.”

Steinheimer came to W&L in 1968 as dean, and after his 1983 retirement from that post continued to teach at W&L. In 1984, he spent a semester at the University of Alabama as the first occupant of the John Sparkman Distinguished Professorship. In 1985, he was named the Robert E.R. Huntley Professor of Law at W&L and taught commercial transactions and consumer protection. He retired from W&L in 1987. From 1989 to 1999, however, he served as an adjunct professor of law.

When he took the dean’s post, Steinheimer told Robert E.R. Huntley, then president of W&L (and his predecessor as dean of the Law School), that the school needed to admit women. Four years later, seven women began their legal education at W&L. “I think it is fair to say that the whole climate in our law school and the spirit in our law school and the educational process in our law school has benefited substantially from the presence of women in our little law school community,” he told the W&L alumni magazine in 1985. He made the active recruitment of minority students another one of his main goals.

Steinheimer also nurtured the personal atmosphere of the Law School. “I thought we could turn out finer professional people if we got to know them and were in constant contact with them,” he told W&L Law in 2010, “so that the professionalism that we as professors had could rub off on them.”

Huntley, who served as law dean from 1967 to 1968 before becoming president of W&L, in 1983 lauded Steinheimer’s deanship. “Our faculty, our curriculum, and our student body have been strengthened in every dimension,” he wrote in the W&L Law Review. Huntley also called him “one of the finest teachers” and “one of those rare persons who is able to combine toughness of mind with compassion of spirit.”

Another signal accomplishment of Steinheimer’s tenure as dean was the construction of Lewis Hall, the spacious, up-to-date headquarters for the Law School that opened in 1977.

Steinheimer’s primary field was commercial law. He served on the Uniform Commercial Code committees of the American and Michigan state bar associations and lectured widely on the code. He belonged to the American Bar Association, American Arbitration Association and American Law Institute. In 1970, he headed a White House task force that investigated ways to explain the American legal system to children.

He also belonged to the honorary societies of Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

Steinheimer wrote many articles and books, including the two-volume “Uniform Commercial Code Forms with Practice Comments” (1969) and the two-volume “Desk Reference to the Uniform Commercial Code” (1964).

In addition to his professional accomplishments, he had a reputation for fair and caring leadership at W&L. “When he was playing pool with you, or golf, he could be perfectly one of the fellows,” said Sam Calhoun, W&L professor of law and associate dean, in 2002. “But as dean there was some distance there. I think that’s the style of some gifted leaders.”

“He had the instincts of a builder,” said Lewis “Lash” LaRue, the W&L Class of 1958 Alumni Professor of Law Emeritus, in 2002. “He came to the Law School with a vision, and he won support very quickly. The faculty trusted him to do what needed to be done. He was persuasive and impressive.”

As a tribute upon his retirement from the deanship, the law faculty established the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Commercial Law Award, which W&L gives each year to the graduating law student who has compiled the most outstanding record in commercial law. In 1984, alumni and friends created the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professorship in Law.

Sally Wiant, professor of law at W&L and one of the first women to enroll at W&L’s Law School, called him in 2002 “a man bigger than life, a man with unquestioned integrity, a man willing to take risks for the good of the school, a man of strong convictions, and a man of such warmth.”

He received yet another honor when he stepped down from the dean’s post: Law students commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of Steinheimer, which now hangs in Lewis Hall.

“He has led by his unerring commitment to integrity,” Andrew W. McThenia Jr., the James P. Morefield Professor of Law Emeritus at W&L, wrote in the W&L Law Review in 1983. “Credibility, coherence and certainty are words he uses often. The base element of each of those and the glue that holds them together is his integrity. His tenure has been in the best sense of the word, that of a gentleman.”

In addition to his teaching and administrative reputations, Steinheimer was as well known for his colorful sportcoats as he was for his oft-repeated answer to faculty requests, “My hands are tied,” and for the well-known slogan that an unknown law professor coined after hearing that answer: “I’ve been Royed.”

Known as “The Sky Dean,” he piloted a Beech Bonanza airplane until he was 76 years old over the skies of the East Coast on recruitment trips. He also flew in Alaska, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. And he raised sheep both in Michigan and Virginia.

Steinheimer married Jane Powell Patchett in 1949; she died in 1982. He married Frances Pugh in 1988; she died in 2008. He is survived by Frances Pugh Steinheimer’s daughters, Sarah Pugh Dicks ’86L and Susan Pugh Morten.

Per Steinheimer’s wishes, there will be no funeral or memorial service.

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