In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Walter Wadlington

‘Much Revered’ Family and Health Law Scholar Continued To Teach After 2002 Retirement
Walter Wadlington

Walter Wadlington was James Madison Professor Emeritus. Photo by Tom Cogill

May 29, 2019

Walter Wadlington, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia School of Law known for his kindness and influence as an academic, died Monday. He was 88.

Wadlington retired as the James Madison Professor of Law in 2002 after a four-decade career at the Law School. An expert in family law, law and medicine, medical malpractice and children in the legal system, he joined the Virginia Law faculty in 1962 after teaching at Tulane Law School for two years. He also served as Professor of Legal Medicine at the UVA Medical School, starting in 1979.

Dean Risa Goluboff remembered Wadlington as “a gifted and inspiring teacher, and a passionate, warm and kind person.” She offered condolences to his wife, Ruth, and their family.

Professor Richard Bonnie ’69, a health law expert, said he felt inspired to pursue an academic career because of Wadlington’s teaching and mentorship.

“Walter was a pioneer in curricular innovation in an amazing array of fields, including health law, domestic relations (now called family law), juvenile justice and, more generally, law relating to children,” Bonnie said. “He was a mentor and inspiration to me and to several generations of students who followed in his footsteps and became law teachers. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are Walter’s disciples, especially in the effort to import psychology and other behavioral sciences into the study of law and to stimulate interdisciplinary teaching.”

John C. Jeffries ’73, the University’s senior vice president for advancement and a former Law School dean, recalled the fond regard that Dean Monrad Paulsen (1968-76) had for Wadlington, as well as his own.

“Dean Paulsen used to say that Walter Wadlington was ‘some kind of genius — not sure what kind, but some kind,’” Jeffries said. “Walter was indeed a kind of genius. He had an agile, restless, inventive mind of great range and originality. And he had a big heart. Walter was the kindest man I've ever known, benevolent toward all and infinitely tolerant of the shortcomings of others.”

Bonnie agreed about Wadlington’s generosity of self: “Walter was one of the kindest and most gracious human beings I ever met. He and his wonderful wife, Ruth, personified what it means to be a role model in higher education and life.”

Wadlington continued to share his knowledge with law students into retirement, co-instructing a course on children’s medical care issues with Thomas A. Massaro.

Gene Dahmen ’67, writing in the fall 2002 UVA Lawyer following a class gift in honor of Wadlington’s retirement, praised the professor for the influence he had on the lives and careers of members of the class. Wadlington’s service to the Law School included acting as director of admissions before becoming a full professor in 1964.

“Much revered both inside and outside the classroom, Professor Wadlington always found time to share his warmth, wit and friendship with students and colleagues, despite the heavy demands of his professional life,” Dahmen wrote. “Few teachers have influenced the lives of as many living alumni of the Law School, and none of these alumni are more grateful to him than members of the Class of 1967.”

Wadlington received the American Society of Law and Medicine’s Distinguished Health Law Teacher Award in 1988.

In addition to his work at the Law School, Wadlington was a member of the American Law Institute and of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He directed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Medical Malpractice Program and chaired the advisory board of its program on Improving Malpractice Prevention and Compensation Systems. He served on the National Advisory Board on Ethics in Reproduction, chaired the Virginia State Bar Association Committee on Domestic Relations, and co-chaired the National Task Force on Day-Care Licensing.

Early in his career, he practiced law in New Orleans, served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and spent a year as a Fulbright scholar and tutor at the University of Edinburgh. 

He received his A.B. from Duke in 1951 and his LL.B. in 1954 from Tulane University, where he was editor-in-chief of the Tulane Law Review and elected to the Order of the Coif.

A public memorial service will be held at Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge in Charlottesville at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15, with a reception to follow. Before the service, there will be family visitation beginning at 12:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations in memory may be made to Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge Foundation, 250 Pantops Mountain Road, Charlottesville 22911, or The Alzheimer’s Association, Central and Western Virginia Chapter, based in Charlottesville.
  • Wadlington

    Photo courtesy Law School Foundation/UVA Law Special Collections

  • Wadlington teaching

    Wadlington taught courses such as Modern Social Legislation, Law and Poverty, Domestic Relations, and Juvenile and Family Courts at UVA Law. Photo courtesy Law School Foundation/UVA Law Special Collections

  • Wadlington mingles during Admitted Students Weekend

    Wadlington talks to a student during Admitted Students Weekend in 1999. Photo courtesy Law School Foundation/UVA Law Special Collections

  • Bernard Chamberlain '22 and Wadlington

    Bernard Chamberlain '22 and Wadlington were among those who attended the dedication ceremony for Moyston Court, which connected the Law School and Darden School of Business. Photo courtesy Law School Foundation/UVA Law Special Collections

  • Wadlington poses outside

    Photo courtesy Virginia Law Weekly/UVA Law Special Collections

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