Tribute to Beloved University of Utah Law Professor John J. Flynn

John Flynn

John Flynn

A great light has gone out in our lives: John Joseph Flynn, husband, father, grandfather, brother, teacher, advocate and friend, passed away on Sunday, April 11, 2010.

He was born on April 10, 1936, in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, to George Ryan Flynn and Mary Woodhead Flynn. As a boy in Massachusetts he learned to love music, gardening, and fishing-three passions that remained with him throughout his life. For a while music was something of a career for him: he played sax and clarinet for a number of bands including that of famed jazzman Maynard Ferguson. He loved fishing for trout and salmon, and his summer garden was always a delight to friends and family.

His true calling was the law, and in his long and storied career he served his country and his community as a teacher, an advocate, a philosopher, and an attorney. He received a B.S. cum laude from Boston College (1958), an LL.B. from Georgetown University (1961), and an S.J.D. from the University of Michigan (1967). In 1963 he was asked to join the faculty at the University of Utah, and with his beloved wife Sheila he made Salt Lake City his home. It was from Utah that his profound impact on both the local and the national scene unfurled.

Thousands of future lawyers and judges passed through his classrooms, and they all received his very particular education. He believed and taught that the men and women who practice law should do so with a conscience and that they should dedicate themselves to finding justice for all. He always wanted his students to see not only the intricate problems before them, but the people whose lives were touched by those problems because, as he said so often, “Every legal decision is a moral decision.” We live in a society where jokes about ruthless lawyers are commonplace: if John Flynn was your teacher, then the lesson you learned was to do the right thing. Honesty, compassion, and duty were his watchwords.

His advice and counsel was sought time and again by the administration of the University of Utah throughout his 42 year career there. John was a fierce advocate for faculty governance and a defender of academic freedom. He took great pride in the fact that he was part of the team that drafted the University’s free speech regulations and that they are still in effect. He was honored by the College of Law with the Hugh B. Brown professorship (which he held from 1986 to 2004), and by the “U” itself in 1987 with the prestigious Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the University of Utah’s highest honor, awarded annually at Commencement.

As a Professor he had a reputation of caring for his students and fellow faculty and staff that was unmatched. There are endless stories of young law students who got that extra bit of self-confidence and direction from this most caring and compassionate mentor, and when illness or misfortune struck down a colleague, he was there to help and to provide comfort. Despite his own battles with illness over the last years of his life, John was a dependable friend to those of his generation who were ailing. Students and staff alike compared him to the fictional “Mr. Chips,” the beloved teacher who was the heart and conscience of his school.

His career was so much more than that, though: John Flynn was also one of the United States’ preeminent legal minds in his chosen field of Antitrust. In addition to co-authoring two basic law texts used across the country (“Free Enterprise and Economic Organization: Antitrust” and “Free Enterprise and Economic Regulation: Government Regulation”), his counsel was sought by the U.S. Senate and House, Federal and State courts, and the White House. He taught law as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Georgetown, Texas, Washington University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as Special Counsel and consultant to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee from 1969 to 1976. He served on the Consumer Advisory Panel to AT&T from 1990 to 1999, as Ombudsman for Utah Power and Light, and was a board member of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Published in Lowell Sun on April 14, 2010

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