Campus News

University community mourns passing of Beaird, law school dean emeritus

James Ralph Beaird

James Ralph Beaird, dean emeritus of the School of Law, died Aug. 14 after an extended illness. He was 88.

“What I will remember most about Dean Beaird’s extraordinary life was his demand for excellence,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “He set the bar very high, and he expected others to follow his wonderful example of service to the university and the law school.”

Born Sept. 27, 1925, in Gadsden, Alabama, Beaird joined the military after graduating from high school and participated in the 1945 invasion of Okinawa. A year later, he enrolled at the University of Alabama where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1949 and a bachelor’s degree in law in 1951. He earned a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University in 1953.

Beaird worked for the U.S. Department of Labor before joining UGA in 1967 as a professor in the law school where he remained until 1989. During Beaird’s tenure at the law school, he served as acting dean from 1972-1974 and dean from 1976-1987. In 1974, he was named University Professor, a designation denoting outstanding service to the institution beyond one’s specific academic discipline, and counselor to the president of the university.

The growth in quality and program diversity of UGA’s School of Law during Beaird’s deanship is evidenced in the growth of its private funds endowment from less than $450,000 in 1972 to $17 million in 1987; the ­establishment of the Dean Rusk Center for International and Comparative Law in 1977; the granting of an Order of the Coif chapter, the Phi Beta Kappa of legal education, in 1978; 21 endowed professorships established by 1987; the founding of the Institute for Continuing Judicial Education in 1977; growth of the advanced degree Master of Laws program; increasing academic credentials of entering students and bar exam passing rates; international programs; addition of a 25,000-square-foot annex to the law library in 1981; doubling the law library volumes from 1973-1987; conversion to the semester system; and other advances that led to ranking the UGA School of Law as among the nation’s best.

After stepping down from the deanship in 1987, Beaird returned to teaching. The University of Alabama Law Center invited him to return to his alma mater as the John Sparkman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law for the spring semester of 1988. In 1989, he retired from UGA to join a private law practice in Athens.

The family requests that those wishing to honor Beaird’s memory do so with a gift to the Jeanne and Ralph Beaird Law Library Fund at the UGA School of Law or to Athens First United Methodist Church.