November 14, 2007

Scholarship honors mentor to law school dean

by Pete Rosenbery

law gift

Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A scholarship at Southern Illinois University's School of Law honors John A. Maher's contributions to the legal profession during more than 50 years as an attorney and legal educator.

Maher, a professor and dean emeritus of Penn State University's The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., is a mentor to SIU School of Law Dean Peter C. Alexander. Maher hired Alexander as a law professor at The Dickinson School of Law in 1992. Alexander left there in 2003 to become dean at the SIU School of Law.

Alexander, along with several of Maher's former colleagues and students, initiated the SIU School of Law John A. Maher Scholarship Prize Endowment .

A currently enrolled law student will receive the initial $1,000 scholarship in April. Recipients will reflect Maher's characteristics — professionalism, a demand for excellence, compassion for others, graciousness, and a commitment to cosmopolitanism and diversity.

Alexander said Maher and his wife, Joan Dawley Maher, set important examples to follow. Joan Dawley Maher is a retired securities lawyer, associate professor at Wilson College and adjunct professor at both Dickinson and Widener University School of Law.

The Mahers "didn't just talk about the 'haves and have-nots' or diversity for the sake of diversity," Alexander said.

"They talked about the concept that John taught me — cosmopolitanism. He also taught me about pluralism — recognizing that we have differences but making a way possible for those people from different backgrounds to come together, hold onto their differences, and to share experiences in the rich melting pot of society," Alexander said.

While thinking of ways to donate to SIUC, Alexander talked with noted securities law practitioner and author G. Philip Rutledge, a friend and one of Maher's former students, about establishing a scholarship to honor Maher.

There already is a John A. Maher Scholarship awarded to first-year students at The Dickinson School of Law.

Rutledge, a 1978 Dickinson graduate and adjunct faculty member, views the newest scholarship "as an opportunity to honor two great humans — my mentor and longtime friend, Dean Maher, and the success of my friend and academic colleague, Dean Alexander."

"It was not hard to see that many of the students who I taught in class long after my graduation held Dean (then professor) Alexander in the same high esteem as earlier classes had held Dean Maher," said Rutledge, whose firm, Bybel Rutledge LLP. is in Pittsburgh and Lemoyne, Pa.

"They shared the same passion for learning, encouraging students, and expanding legal and cultural experiences," said Rutledge, noting that Maher served on one of the first bar panels looking at legal issues associated with people afflicted with AIDS. "They also had little time for the less diligent and non-committal."

"It says a lot about Dean Maher that colleagues and former students are providing significant financial support honoring his many contributions to legal education," said Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of development with the SIU Foundation.

"Clearly these associates are interested in ensuring future educational opportunities for law students demonstrating Dean Maher's professional passion and expertise. The SIU School of Law is fortunate to be able to recognize someone who has meant so much to the field of law for so many," Lorber said.

Alexander's contribution is $10,000.

"This is my alma mater, but it's important as the dean to set an example for other potential donors and alumni," Alexander said. "When I go out and meet individuals and ask them to contribute to the SIU Foundation, I am very comfortable saying to them that it is a wise use of their money because I give to the SIU Foundation as well."

Maher taught at Dickinson for 33 years, serving as dean from 1989 to 1994. He continues to consult concerning trade regulation law. After naval service afloat and a food law fellowship at New York University, his professional life commenced on Wall Street and proceeded on many levels. He is a former Pennsylvania securities commissioner, and served as director of then-Atlantic Liberty Savings in Brooklyn for 41 years, including board chairman from 1996 to 2001. Maher also served as vice president-legal affairs and secretary at Blount, Inc., in Montgomery, Ala., and in several positions within Swift & Co. and Celanese Corp. in New York City. His teaching career involved 25 years of coaching moot court teams, several of which earned championships. Maher said he is particularly proud of his teams, whether or not they "took a Gonfalon."

The Mahers live in Decatur, Ga. They have five children and seven grandchildren.

The scholarship came as a surprise and an honor, John Maher said.

"Words fail," Maher said. He has paid "very careful attention" to the law school since Alexander became dean in 2003.

"I was broken-hearted when Peter left Pennsylvania to return to Illinois, but I understood," he said. "I know that he's a Saluki all the way. That was very clear from Day One."

One of the legal profession's secrets is that perspiration precedes inspiration, Maher said.

"We marshal facts and then we apply law," he said. "If we happen to have a little bit of genius, which really usually relates to something akin to a tribal memory, that is when genius comes into play. We work at being lawyers."

Diversity is not an objective but "a fact of America," Maher said.

"Our educational ideal should be to produce cosmopolitans — not people who are hung up on perpetuating diversity, but people who go forward every day and build the new world — every day the new world," he said. "There is no static new world."

Alexander said that tolerance is one of Maher's most important characteristics, and Maher's career is an example that will benefit law school students.

"By most accounts, someone in John's position — a very successful, high-powered attorney who moved up the ranks of legal education and became a very well-respected dean — might be regarded as someone of privilege who might not be expected to think about the 'have-nots' … and giving everyone an opportunity," Alexander said.

"But it's part and parcel of who he is; that all people are very important to him irrespective of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and national origin," Alexander said. "I think it is important to celebrate those kinds of achievements.

"We do a lot to celebrate academic success and sports success. But it is equally important I think to recognize contributions by students who, by just being themselves, make the law school a better place," he said.


Honoring a legal legend — Southern Illinois University School of Law Dean Peter C. Alexander (left) stands next to his mentor John A. Maher at the announcement of an endowed scholarship honoring Maher's lifetime achievements. Alexander, along with several of Maher's former colleagues and students, initiated the law school's John A. Maher Scholarship Prize Endowment. With Alexander and Maher (from left) are Maher's wife, Joan Dawley Maher, and Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of development with the SIU Foundation..

Photo by Jeff Garner