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Week of January 24, 2011


A.W. Brian Simpson

A.W. Brian Simpson, a Michigan Law professor who was recognized around the world as one of the leading academic lawyers of his generation, died at his home in England Jan. 10 at the age of 79.

Simpson’s scholarly interests included the historical development of law and legal institutions, legal philosophy, the European Convention and human rights. But alongside his commitment to excellence in scholarship came a matching commitment to superb teaching. So beloved was he by Michigan Law and other former students that they formed a Facebook fan page in his honor.

“He was much loved and will be deeply missed,” Michigan Law and Oxford colleague Professor Christopher McCrudden wrote. “His scholarship remains and is an important consolation, but there is so much more to be remembered: a deeply committed scholar who wore his learning lightly, someone tolerant of all human foibles except pomposity, self-deprecatingly witty, excellent company, a natural story-teller, a loyal friend, an inspirational teacher, a part-time pilot and an intrepid (if somewhat haphazard) sailor who loved messing about in boats.”

Simpson’s work was wide-ranging. Born in 1931, his early education came in what he jokingly referred to as the “Prussian model” British boarding school. He also served in the British Army, where he was an officer in the Nigeria Regiment of the Royal West African Frontier Force. After his service he studied law at Oxford, where he stayed as a fellow and tutor of Lincoln College until 1973. During that time, he returned briefly to Africa, serving as dean of the law faculty at the University of Ghana.

After leaving Oxford, he became a law professor and later a dean at the University of Kent. In 1984 he came to the University of Chicago Law School, then to U-M in 1987. He retired in 2009.

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1983, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 10 years later.

A prolific and influential writer, his signature wit and meticulous research were perhaps most evident in the mordantly titled “Cannibalism and the Common Law,” a study of a 19th Century British court case involving shipwrecked sailors who were prosecuted for killing and eating a cabin boy. The book was in keeping with Simpson’s hallmark dedication to researching the minutiae of common law cases, then presenting his findings in clear and compelling prose.

“Few professors have commanded the affection of students more completely or more naturally than Professor Simpson,” said Law School Dean Evan Caminker. “He will be sorely missed by his colleagues on the faculty and by generations of alumni of the institution he served so well for more than 20 years.”

He is survived by his second wife Caroline, whom he married in 1969, children Charles, Carol, Tim, Zoë and Jane, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A funeral was held at St. Clement’s Church in Sandwich, Kent, on Jan. 20, with a memorial service to be held at Lincoln College, Oxford, sometime later this year.

A story about Professor Simpson’s Blue Jeans Lecture is available at

Beverly Rathcke

Beverly Rathcke, a retired faculty member in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, died Jan. 6 surrounded by friends and cats at her home in Ann Arbor. Dozens of messages arrived during her final days attesting to the power of her friendship in fostering an amazing community of people. Friends and family say they marveled at her kindness and the positive influences she contributed to their lives.

Photo by Dale Austin.

Born in 1945 in Wadena, Minn., Rathcke’s grandparents immigrated from Sweden and settled in northern Minnesota. Her interests were evident early; photos from childhood scrapbooks show her with cats, dogs or flowers. She was valedictorian of her high school class, and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study entomology at Imperial College in London after completing her undergraduate degree at Gustavus Adolphus. She did doctoral work at University of Illinois and postdoctoral work at Cornell University, then joined the faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at U-M, where she served from 1978 until her retirement in 2010.

Rathcke conducted pioneering studies on pollination biology and plant-animal interactions in species ranging from mangroves (Bahamas, Mexico and Florida) to spotted knapweed (Michigan) to mountain laurel (Rhode Island). She was the dissertation chair or co-chair for 29 doctoral students and worked on more than 50 other doctoral committees. She was an excellent teacher and strong advocate for graduate students; she received a Rackham Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award in 2008. She encouraged her friends and former students to follow their passions — not just to be scientists, but to be artists and explorers and spiritual seekers. Former students and colleagues traveled from as far as California and Maine to celebrate her retirement. This past year she traveled and reconnected with former students, colleagues and friends in Mexico, California, Maine and places between.

Rathcke’s home was a frequent gathering place for potlucks. Parties overflowed with quirky scientist types and their families. In 2005 she completed a renovation of her house, which was featured on the Old West Side homes tour. Her beloved rescue dog, a Keeshond named Kodi, was a part of her life for 11 years. She enjoyed Ann Arbor life, attending garden and home tours and music and dance performances. Her exultant laugh will echo always in the minds of her friends, they say.

She is survived by her cousin Chuck Larson, and his family, and many friends.

A life celebration will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 19, at the fourth floor amphitheater of the Rackham Graduate School Building. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to any of three causes: Bahamas Environment Fund (Bahamas National Trust), 260 Crandon Blvd., Suite 32-213, Key Biscayne, FL 33149; The Nature Conservancy, 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606; or to a fund for graduate student summer support at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 830 N. University, 2019 Kraus Natural Science Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048.



Diana Paterno, graduate program assistant, Department of Sociology, on the farming organization Wishing Tree Gardens: “We enrich not just the soil, but the whole community.”


Zell Visiting Writers Series with Mary Gaitskill, 5 p.m. Feb. 10, U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium.

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