Remembering Deborah Rhode, 1952-2021

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Stanford Law School has posted a wonderful tribute here. An excerpt follows:

“Deborah was a pioneering woman on the Stanford faculty when she joined the law school in 1979. A beloved teacher and mentor to many, she will be missed by her faculty colleagues, current and former students, and generations of lawyers and legal scholars across the globe,” said Jenny S. Martinez, Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean. “She was a tireless advocate for a vision of law as public service, and an advocate in the profession for women, people of color, and others who felt marginalized.  At a personal level, she was also a cherished friend.  I have so many wonderful memories of conversations and walks with her.  From the moment I joined the faculty as an assistant professor, she always had an encouraging word, good advice, or a bit of dry humor to make the best of a bad day. It is hard for me to imagine Stanford Law School without her.”

Deborah L. Rhode was born to Frederick and Hertha Rhode in Evanston, Illinois, on January 29, 1952. In high school near Chicago during the late 1960s, she was a nationally ranked debater; one of her favorite rivals was Merrick Garland, who went on to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and President-elect Biden’s nominee to be U.S. Attorney General.

Rhode entered Yale College in 1970—part of only the second class to include women. She became the first woman president of the Yale Varsity Debate Association (her predecessors included John Kerry and William F. Buckley, Jr.) and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. She attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal and director of the Moot Court Board. She graduated in 1977 and clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1979—only the second woman granted tenure.

At Stanford Law, Rhode was a mentor to students and new colleagues alike, often forming life-long bonds. * * *

Rhode walked the walk with mentoring—quite literally.

“Her walks were legendary; she regularly invited colleagues, especially more junior colleagues, to walk with her to provide support and mentorship. I always admired the candor, authenticity, warmth, care for one’s well-being, and commitment to service that Deborah modeled throughout all my interactions with her over the years, including those regular afternoon walks,” added [Shirin] Sinnar [JD ’03, professor of law and John A. Wilson Faculty Scholar].

Anyone who wishes is invited by Stanford to share memories or photos of Professor Rhode here (with the caveat that the school may share the material on social media and elsewhere).

The date for a memorial service has not yet been announced, but according to Stanford’s announcement, “donations may be made to the Deborah L. Rhode Pro Bono Fund at Stanford Law School, which was established and underwritten by Deborah earlier in 2020 to support students providing pro bono services to communities in need.” Donations can be made via the Stanford website, here.

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