The family of Dan Pollitt, Graham Kenan Emeritus Professor of Law, will host a memorial service April 18 to celebrate and honor his life. Friends, family, colleagues and members of the community are invited to attend the service, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sun., April 18 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. Pollitt, one of the most extraordinary figures in the life and history of Carolina Law, the University, and the state, passed away Friday, March 5, 2010. He was 88 years old.
The following tribute is a personal message from John Charles "Jack" Boger '74, dean and Wade Edwards Distinguished Professor of Law:
Dan began teaching Carolina Law students in 1957, and for almost 50 years thereafter, shared with them his crystal clear commitment to academic freedom, civil rights, free speech, labor rights and a just society. In a voice always soft spoken, with a manner invariably genial, Dan represented the finest progressive social and political values. He was a generous and caring teacher who opened his home and life to his students, and a scholar whose writings conveyed both the legal principles and the deeper animating spirit of constitutional law, labor law, and civil rights. Dan had an unparalleled record of social activism, a deep devotion to the University and personal friendship with many leading American public figures of his age. Dan served the School of Law and the University in much the way that the University of North Carolina has served the state, as a strong, beneficent mind and voice, prompting all to aspire to principles of fairness and inclusion.
His death is an enormous professional and institutional loss.
Dan was born in 1921 in Washington, D.C. Both of his parents were lawyers with the New Deal Administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He received an undergraduate education at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, graduating with an A.B. degree in 1943. He joined the United States Marine Corps and saw active combat in the Pacific theatre, landing in Japan in 1945. After World War II ended, he entered Cornell Law School, receiving an LL.B. degree with honors in 1949. After a year of private practice in a private D.C. firm, Pollitt clerked for Judge Henry Edgerton of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Dan then began a long professional association with the firm created by Joseph Rauh and John Silard, where he worked on a wide variety of labor, civil rights and other cases through 1955. He began his academic teaching at the University of Arkansas, but when he refused, on principle, to sign a loyalty oath and was threatened with dismissal, former Dean Maurice Van Hecke, Dean Henry Brandis and President Frank Porter Graham urged him to come teach in Chapel Hill. He joined the UNC Law faculty in 1957. Apart from a year between 1961-62 as special consultant to chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and visiting professorships at Duke, Virginia, Oregon and Georgetown, he spent the rest of his professional life at Carolina Law.
Dan was the author of more than 60 articles, many in leading law reviews but some in magazines such as Harpers, Esquire and Christianity and Crisis. He was renowned as a teacher of constitutional law, labor law and civil rights, engaging students with his modest personal style but vast knowledge of contemporary labor and constitutional law and policy. Many students recall the seminar sessions he would host in his home with his gracious first wife, Jean Ann Rutledge, daughter of Justice Rutledge, who would welcome the students along with Dan.
Dan's record of service was unparalleled in the history of the School of Law. He was a charter member of the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union and served as its president from 1969-73. He was a member of the Council of the Southern Regional Council from 1966-76. He helped found Southerners for Economic Justice in 1976 and was a member of its Executive Committee. He was a member of the National Sharecroppers Fund from 1960 forward. He served on the board of the Farmworkers Legal Services of North Carolina Program from 1978-81. He was chair of a Citizens Investigation of the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal strike in 1974. Dan was also a devoted member of the Community Church of Chapel Hill, on many of whose committees he served from 1957 onward.
He was also active in University affairs, serving on the Faculty Council several times, serving as chair of the faculty from 1978-82, as chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee, and twice as a member of the Faculty Hearings Committee. The University bestowed its highest faculty award, the Thomas Jefferson Award, in 1982.
Dan was equally vigorous in support of academic freedom, serving as president of the North Carolina Chapter of the American Association of University Professors from 1968-69; a member of the National Council from 1977-80, and a long-time legal advisor to college and university professors from around the nation who found themselves in trouble for exercises of free speech.
In the field of civil rights, Dan's activities were constant and courageous. He helped to desegregate restaurants and stores in Chapel Hill in the 1960s, but he and his wife also ate with Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King to desegregate Rich's department store in Atlanta. He came with Dean Smith to recruit Charlie Scott to UNC as its first black basketball star. He was a mentor to and lifelong friend of Julius Chambers. Literally scores of community activists remember when Dan Pollitt had been there for them, filing briefs, making oral arguments, writing trenchant pieces in The Independent or other public venues.
Dan's death has come within two months of that of Gene Gressman, his long-time faculty colleague, and Sally Sharp, another close faculty friend. The School of Law founded a first-year oral advocacy program named in tribute to Gressman and Pollitt. It is perhaps fitting that first-year students at Carolina Law will always be honored for their fledgling advocacy skills by sharing the name of these two great giants of the Carolina Law faculty. We will miss all of them deeply. He is survived by his second wife, Senator Ellie Kinnaird; three children, Dan, Phoebe, and Susan; and several grandchildren.
-March 5, 2010