Remembering Robinson O. Everett

September 25, 2009Duke Law News

Sept. 25, 2009 — Friends, colleagues, and former students of Robinson O. Everett gathered in the Law School’s Star Commons Sept. 24 to share memories of his venerated career and poignant personal anecdotes of the longtime Duke Law scholar. A 1959 graduate, Everett died on June 12 at age 81.

Speakers at the afternoon memorial service recalled how Everett possessed an intense curiosity and vast knowledge of legal issues while maintaining an inimitable personal touch and genuine concern for others’ well-being.

Everett was described as being equally comfortable arguing before the Supreme Court — he did so four times as an attorney for the plaintiffs in Shaw v. Reno, North Carolina’s congressional redistricting litigation —and talking about politics, life, and law over hush puppies, a personal favorite, at Bullock’s Bar B Cue in Durham.

Duke Law School Dean David F. Levi observed that Everett’s considerable success came as a natural byproduct of a life of service.

“Robinson once said that law provides wonderful opportunities for service to others and is also a means to a productive life,” Levi said. “This understated description seems so typical of Robbie. He did not consciously set out to achieve greatness, he sought a productive life through service; but he sought it so constantly, so energetically, and so unselfishly, that in the end greatness came to him unbidden and unsought.”

Levi reviewed some of the many highlights of Everett’s life in law: his graduation magna cum laude from Harvard University at the age of 19; his distinction as the youngest person, at age 22, to teach at Duke Law; his service in the U.S. Air Force on active duty for two years during the Korean War followed by reserve service until 1978, when he retired as a colonel; his time as commissioner of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals; his work with the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that led to the enactment of the Military Justice Act of 1968, which created the position of military judge and formalized the military court system; his appointment by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, where he served as a chief judge from 1980 to 1999, when he assumed senior status; his law practice in Durham and the District of Columbia; and the variety of leadership positions he held in the legal profession, the community, and his church.

The afternoon ceremony concluded with Walter W. Manley II ’72 unveiling a painting of Everett — Manley’s gift to the Law School — that will hang in the Law School’s fourth floor portrait gallery.

“Judge Everett was a happy and grateful man,” said Theresa Newman ’88, a student of Everett’s who later joined him on the faculty as a clinical professor of law. “He loved his family, he loved his students and his colleagues, he loved being a teacher, he loved being a lawyer, and he loved this law school. That love was felt, and it made a tremendous difference.”

Others echoed those sentiments as they reflected on Everett’s dedication to the well-being of the Law School and his hometown of Durham despite his many professional accomplishments on the national stage.

William A. Reppy Jr., the Charles L. B. Lowndes Emeritus Professor of Law, noted Everett’s mindfulness of those who may otherwise have felt isolated in an oftentimes demanding law school environment.

“He energized many a lonely, somewhat lost student and made them happy to be at Duke just as he was happy to be here,” Reppy said. “Robbie was good in so many ways and the Law School was quite fortunate to have found him.”

Clark C. Havighurst, the William Neal Reynolds Professor Emeritus of Law, spoke of Everett’s ceaseless energy and determination that he used to the benefit of the Law School when, for example, he helped recruit Dean A. Kenneth Pye from Georgetown in 1968. Havighurst said this unfailingly enthusiasm led him to assume that Everett “would just keep on keeping on.” He then joked that the Everett would be remembered as a study in contrasts.

“Now that he’s actually not with us, his colleagues will remember him as being, if there can be any such thing, a gentle, unassuming force of nature, and perhaps the slowest-moving high-energy guy I’ve ever known,” Havighurst said.

Professor Scott L. Silliman expressed his honor at having been recruited from the Air Force by Everett in 1993 to serve as executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, which Everett founded.

Everett received military honors at his burial and had a brigadier general leading the honor guard. Silliman noted that this was “a very unusual occurrence and one which was specifically approved in Washington by the Air Force Chief of Staff.” Everett also was one of only five individuals to receive the Morris Liebman Award for lifetime service to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security, Silliman said.

He noted that three judges from the U.S. Court of Military Appeals – Chief Judge Andrew S. Effron, Judge Scott W. Stucky, and Senior Judge Eugene R. Sullivan — were in attendance at the Law School’s memorial service. President Jimmy Carter nominated Everett in February 1980 to be a chief judge on the court, and he maintained his senior status at the time of his death.

Silliman concluded that Everett’s humility amid such great accomplishment was his most telling quality.

“Robbie was a humble and unassuming man, always looking to raise up others rather than himself,” Silliman said. “To me, that reflects more of who Robbie was than anything he ever did, all of the heralded achievements that he accomplished. It was that concern for others that was Robbie Everett.”

Judge James C. Dever ’87, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, likewise admired Everett’s humility.

“Robinson was both utterly brilliant and disarmingly humble and kind,” Dever said. “There are a lot of brilliant people in the world, but to find someone who is both brilliant and disarmingly humble and kind, that individual is a rare individual. That individual is Robinson Everett.”

Dever highlighted Everett’s dedication to the issue of restorative justice and offered reflections based on his many interactions with him — as a student, mentor, co-counsel, friend, and, finally, co-teacher of courses in sentencing and punishment as well as criminal punishment. During 51 years on the Duke Law faculty Everett taught courses in military justice, criminal law, sentencing, and criminal procedure.

Everett’s three sons – Robinson Jr., Greg, and Luke – honored their father’s memory in brief remarks at the conclusion of the memorial service. Everett’s youngest son, Luke, produced a near-unanimous show of hands when he asked attendees at the memorial service if they had ever joined Everett and his wife, Lynn, for dinner in their Durham home, shared lunch with the professor at a local dining establishment, sat with Everett at a Bar Association meeting, or shared a pleasant conversation with him in the hallways of the Law School.

Robinson Everett Jr. suggested that his father’s service on the Law School faculty was what he most enjoyed.

“My father had many careers, but I suspect if he had been forced to choose he would’ve put teaching law first,” Robinson Everett Jr. said. “He loved interacting with students and fellow faculty members and sharing his passion for law and for life.”
Other News