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Law school honors Matheson's contributions

January 29, 2007

Alan Matheson has been around since the first days of the law school at ASU in 1967, serving over the years as dean, supporting the Indian Legal Program and shepherding the plan to form the Center for the Study of Law, Science & Technology.

“It was wonderful, starting from scratch,” says Matheson, who was a founding faculty member and served as dean, interim dean and acting dean on five different occasions. “You felt you could really have an impact on the operation.”

Now, as Matheson reaches his 75th birthday, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law is honoring him with a diamond jubilee reception, and is raising $2 million to endow a chair in his honor. Friends, colleagues and family members will give tributes at the reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Feb. 2, in Armstrong Hall.

“No one has given more to Arizona State University or the College of Law than Alan Matheson,” says Patricia White, the college's dean. “He served on the founding faculty of the law school. He has served as dean on five occasions. He has served as president of the faculty senate and as a member of innumerable committees.

“Throughout all of this, he has been a wonderful teacher to thousands of students, an important member of the legal community – and one of the kindest human beings you could imagine.”

Matheson's calm, gentle demeanor has earned him comparisons to a Jimmy Stewart movie character.

“The signature characteristic of Alan Matheson in all the capacities in which I have known him – dean, associate dean, colleague, friend – is his warmth, understanding and graciousness,” says law professor Michael Berch, who has worked with Matheson since joining the law school in 1969. . “So many who have touched Alan are so much the better for understanding through his examples of compassion and human dignity.”

Matheson earned a bachelor's and master's degree in political science, as well as a law degree, from the University of Utah, where he was editor-in-chief of the Utah Law Review. He was an associate in law at Columbia University and served as assistant to the president of Utah State University before joining ASU.

He was recruited by Willard Pedrick, the first dean of ASU's law school, and Homer Durham, ASU's president at that time, and hired as unofficial university counsel and associate dean of the law school.

Matheson helped plan the dedication of the law school, which featured a speech by Earl Warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, Warren was considered by many in Arizona to be too liberal.

“The governor refused to come, and there were protestors outside Gammage with signs that said, ‘Impeach Earl Warren,' ” Matheson says. “He got a standing ovation.”

The law school's curriculum was innovative, Matheson says, concentrating on clinical education, with an Office of Legal Services and increased diversity in the legal community.

Matheson was dean of the college from 1979 to 1984, acting dean in 1972, and interim dean in 1978-1979, 1989, and 1997-1998. He currently teaches constitutional law and community property.

“Teaching is the best job in the world,” he says. “It is so rewarding to have bright, young students. I've been blessed to teach constitutional law and individual rights. It's relevant, timely, pertinent in the lives of students, and exciting.”

Matheson and his wife, Milicent, have been married for 46 years. They have three sons – two of whom became lawyers, while the other is a doctor – and 12 grandchildren. He serves as a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, counseling about 300 young, single student members.

Over the years, he has served with the American Bar Association, as president of the Tri-City Citizens Mental Health Board, on the board of directors for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, as arbitrator for Maricopa County Superior Court, as judge pro tempore for the Arizona Court of Appeals, and on the DNA-People's Legal Services' board of directors, which helps provide legal services to low-income people on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

As part of the effort to honor Matheson, the college is raising money to support a chair in his name. Ira A. Fulton, founder and chief executive officer of Fulton Homes, has agreed to match every cash contribution of up to $1,000, up to $200,000. With that pledge, nearly $400,000 already has been raised toward a $2 million goal. To participate, visit the Web site (

Judy Nichols ,