Wednesday, May 7, 2008
It is with tremendous sadness that I must report the death, yesterday, of Roy Mersky, the extraordinary Director of the UT Law Library since 1965, the man whom Blair Kaufman, the law librarian at Yale, once called "the emperor of worldwide law librarianship." He set the standard for professionalism and excellence in the field, and academic and firm law libraries throughout the U.S. and abroad are run by individuals who received their training at UT under Professor Mersky. UT faculty, even when visiting at other U.S. law schools, routinely came back to Roy and his staff for research assistance. (Not long ago, he said to me that even upon joining the University of Chicago Law School faculty, I should continue to feel free to call on him and the UT law library for any research needs.) Two anecdotes:
1. A colleague recently wrote to Roy: "I thought I would drop you a line to say, yet again, how terrific you/Tarlton Law Library/[Jonathan] Pratter are! I am in transit in Italy but yesterday I had an urgent need for obscure medical journal pieces: asked Jon P if he could help; and almost by return, there they were in my inbox! What astonishing service your library provides! Without exaggeration, it is a golden handcuff that strongly deters anyone moving away from UTLaw!"
2. Recently diagnosed with cancer (not the cause of his death, as it happens), Roy wrote to the faculty, almost apologetically, just last week about the illness and his need for treatment: "Please be assured that during my absence the Library will continue to function in an exemplary manner. During the treatment, my energy level will be low, but I still may be able to come into the library. In any event, I will be able to maintain supervision of library operations, through telephone calls and e-mails." He also designated the Associate Director for Administration & Services, Brian Quigley, to make any urgent decisions in his absence.
I do not imagine there are many professionals, in any field, who in their 80s and undergoing medical treatment for a serious illness demonstrate this level of devotion to their work.
Roy also led a remarkably interesting life, marked by displays of courage of many kinds, from the battlefield (he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII and received, among other honors, the Bronze Star) to civilian life, where he was harassed by the FBI in the 1950s for his "left-wing" sympathies and activities, by the reactionary Texas legislature during the 1960s for his efforts on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties, and by some of the less enlightened citizens of Texas, who phoned in death threats and burned a cross on his lawn in Austin in the 1960s after he complained about crosses on government buildings in Austin (they were subsequently removed by court order). (Roy, who was remarkably unperturbed in describing these incidents, told me simply that in the last case, he sent his kids to stay with colleague Russell Weintraub, while he remained in his home.)
I will add links to memorial notices as they appear. I am sure I speak for everyone in the UT Law community in extending our deepest condolences to his widow, Rosemary, and his three children and several grandchildren, who survive him.
UPDATE: Allegra Young, former Communications Director at UT Law, kindly sent me the link to a cover story from the UTLAW alumni magazine about Roy.
ANOTHER: A statement from UT Law Dean Larry Sager, circulated to the law school community this morning:
Throughout his career, Roy was fiercely determined to better serve the UT Law faculty, the UT Law students, and the UT Law community at large than any other law library served its constituents. He was fiercely determined to staff the nation’s law schools with skilled law librarians schooled by their service at UT. And he was fiercely determined to enlarge the idea of a fine library to include lectures, conferences and exhibitions of erudite bibliography and history. He was, in sum, fiercely determined to make the UT Law Library, his library, the most distinguished law library in the world. He succeeded. His passing is the passing of a titan.
He was a friend, a colleague and an icon to us all. We will miss him deeply.
ONE MORE: The Law School's memorial notice is here.
ANOTHER: Roy Mersky Remembered, where colleagues, friends, and admirers may post their recollections.