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Law school bids farewell to Lowenthal

June 08, 2007

The list of things retiring professor Gary Lowenthal will miss about the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is as colorful and substantial as his famed collection of loud ties and patterned socks.

For instance, there's the lively debate and obvious affection among his colleagues, including the craggy-voiced Michael Berch.

“I would hear, right on the other side of my office door, Michael Berch's voice booming – and then I'd realize he was on the other side of the building,” Lowenthal joked during a dinner in his honor, which was attended by 100 family members, friends and former students.

Then there's the college's work environment, where Lowenthal has been warmly assisted by librarians and secretaries for 31 years.

“One of the neat things about walking in this building is coming in the front door and seeing Estela's smile,” he said, referring to receptionist Estela Obregon.

And then there are the students, thousands of them, who have blossomed under Lowenthal's beloved teaching style, the hallmark of which was thoughtful mentorship. He says he'll miss “the classes in which you think you are trying to say something or talk to students, and suddenly, a debate breaks out, and they are talking to each other, and it's the easiest class in the world to teach, because they are teaching themselves.”

Lowenthal presumably has taught his last class at ASU and plans to move with his wife, Susan Cedar, and their 6-year-old daughter, Angela, to Santa Fe , N.M. There, he will begin a new chapter in his life as a full-time writer.

He was lovingly toasted at the annual Law Society dinner during the spring semester, and Patricia White, dean of the College of Law , presented him with a bronzed sculpture of a horse crafted by Arizona artist Cynthia Rigden. The artwork is similar to one received by only one other individual: O'Connor herself.

“We are immensely saddened by your retirement, Gary , but your legacy is a lasting one, and we are all far better for knowing you,” White said.

Professor Jeffrie Murphy opened the program by saying many people don't know about Lowenthal's achievements – as a published scholar, an author, attorney and judge pro-tem – because he's not a “prima donna self-promoter.”

Years ago, when Murphy began teaching criminal law, he asked Lowenthal for help on generating discussion among students and composing their exams. Murphy since has passed along that knowledge to other professors at the College of Law .

“They didn't realize that, when they were talking to me, they were talking to Gary ,” Murphy said. “As long as there is criminal law at the ASU law school, it will be Gary Lowenthal's law.”

Lowenthal studied law at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, as did his longtime friend, Jim Walsh, who spoke at the dinner. Walsh, the attorney general special counsel for southern Arizona , traced Lowenthal's roots as a popular and warm – but competitive – guy from his days at Freeport High School on Long Island , N.Y.

“Gary Lowenthal was listed as ‘Mr. Wonderful' of Freeport High School – and when you are ready for the plaque here, he is certainly ‘Mr. Wonderful' of the ASU College of Law,” Walsh said.

Donna Elm was pregnant twice during her years at the College of Law , including in 1986, when she was Lowenthal's graduate assistant. For part of the time, she was too sick to come to school, but he was sympathetic and trusting.

“He's taught me so much about being a good person, and that has made me a fine lawyer,” said Elm, an assistant federal public defender in Phoenix . “With a whole host of lawyers, he taught us not to think like lawyers, but to think like humans. We have all benefited tremendously from that.”

Lowenthal's colleague Bob Dauber tickled dinner guests with a slide show of mostly old photos of the retiring professor. It ended with a video clip of perhaps the one person who will not miss Lowenthal in his retirement, because she will get more of his time.

“I like when my Daddy plays marbles with me and reads me books and plays cards with me and tells me bedtime stories,” said his daughter, Angela.