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John Morris Clark

Died: January 20, 1979

J. Morris Clark rose from a modest background in Ephrata, Pennsylvania to some of the highest rungs of the legal profession before dying suddenly of a heart attack while jogging on January 20, 1979. Before Yale he attended the Stony Brook School, becoming class valedictorian and winning the school’s most hallowed athletic trophy as a linebacker in football. He was also co-editor of the yearbook, and one of the two in his class elected Most Likely to Succeed.

After Stony Brook, he spent a year in Britain as an English-Speaking Union exchange student at that excellent school, Winchester. He impressed the English with his work on student publications. He entered Yale in his sophomore year, a member of Calhoun College majoring in history, the arts and letters. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude. He confided to a friend that he still had an itch to “sow some wild oats,” but that urge quickly passed as he married Nancy and entered Harvard Law School.

Morris thrived in that famously demanding and competitive law school. He became articles editor of the Harvard Law Review and formed friendships with some outstanding people. They occasionally pulled all-nighters together to get out the Review. Morris and Nancy lived in a house a little north of the law school. She would make tuna fish sandwiches, with curry powder, for his lunch.

Like most students of his generation, Morris opposed the Vietnam War. He and Nancy became Quakers and pacifists. “I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong,” he wrote to a Yale classmate, quoting Muhammad Ali. He also said he had no ambitions to become rich, because rich people have to worry about their families’ being kidnapped.

He spent a year as a law clerk to Judge Sterry R. Waterman, a federal appellate judge in Vermont, then worked for Vermont Legal Aid. He moved to Minnesota to join the faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School. A friend remembers that “his love of the law and teaching, his modesty and gentleness, quickly earned him the affection of his students and the admiration and respect of his colleagues.” He chaired an Education Policy Committee, and formulated the first experimental concentration in the field of public law. In his pinched and undistinguished handwriting, he contributed to legal learning and eventually became a tenured full professor. His heart attack cut short a still young and promising life.

Victor Chen remembers:
Morris was both a serious student — Phi Beta Kappa and all that — and a fun-loving Yalie. I remember his bachelor party in Westport, Connecticut, when his friends hired a lady artiste to perform, and Morris got to remove a certain undergarment of hers with his teeth. Morris got the most out of everything he became involved with.

Thomas Vargish remembers:
Remembrance: John Morris Clark (Morris) b. May 12, 1944; d. January 20, 1979. Yale 1963-66, Calhoun College, B.A. History of Arts and Letters, Phi Beta Kappa.

After graduating from Yale Morris attended Harvard Law School 1966-69 and was selected for the Harvard Law Review, where he served as Note Editor and then Article Editor. Following law school, he clerked for Judge Sperry Waterman of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for a year. He refused entry into the military in 1970 because of his conscientious objection to war and instead did alternative service with Vermont Legal Aid for four years, rising to the position of assistant director. In 1974 he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School, where he taught courses in constitutional law and legal ethics. Many of his publications focused on first amendment rights. He died suddenly and unexpectedly of a probable cardiac event in 1979. He had been in the process of co-authoring a casebook on legal ethics and professional responsibility for students and practitioners; published posthumously, Modern Legal Ethics has been used extensively as the primary resource for those studying this field. He was survived by his spouse, Nancy Griffin (m. 1966), and two children, Joshua (an author and global consultant for web and mobile app design now living in New York City) and Andrea (program coordinator and archaeologist for the Jekyll Island Museum now living in Brunswick, Georgia).

While Morris’ life was cut short, he maintained his integrity by accepting alternative service rather than participate in war at odds with his religious beliefs and spent the time committed to helping the under-served of Vermont address their legal concerns. At the University of Minnesota, he founded a chapter of the Christian Legal Society and provided a leading voice in this national non-profit organization that connects doing law with ministry. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the U of MN Law School’s Educational Policy Committee, working on implementing programs of concentration as a way to reform the curriculum. He saw the need for innovation and formulated the first experimental concentration program in the field of public law. His career in teaching the law was on the ascendancy when he died so unexpectedly.

Those of you who knew Morris will recall that he was a bright, witty man who was a good friend to many of our classmates during our time together at Yale. Finally, on a more personal note, Kate and I owe Nancy and him a debt of gratitude for introducing us at their wedding in 1966. We continue to miss him.