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In Memoriam - Georgetown Law Professor Heathcote “Pete” Wales

October 12, 2017 —

Professor Pete Wales Professor Pete Wales

Professor Emeritus Heathcote “Pete” Woolsey Wales, who joined the Georgetown Law faculty in 1971, died Friday, October 6, at his home in Wyoming. 

“Pete’s contributions to Georgetown were profound and diverse,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor. “He was an innovative scholar and teacher in the fields of criminal law and law and psychiatry who cared deeply for his students and his colleagues. He will be remembered, among so many other things, for his orientation week bike tours of D.C., his jump shots at the annual Home Court charity basketball game and, of course, for his performances with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. He had a gift for friendship and was beloved.”

Heathcote Woolsey Wales got his unusual first names from his mother, who named him after her father during World War II. But when Wales’s own father returned from military service, he named his son “Pete.” Wales earned his A.B. from the University of North Carolina in 1965 and his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1968.

He was committed to the cause of civil rights and before joining the Georgetown Law faculty was an associate professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law and a member of the board of directors of Northern Mississippi Rural Legal Services. “It was half Peace Corps work, half law teaching,” Wales once told Professor Joseph Page. “I liked teaching so much that I stayed with it.”

At Georgetown, Wales taught a popular law and psychiatry course in addition to Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. He also served as a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, the University of Texas Law Schools, and the University of Heidelberg. His writings focused on mental health courts and issues concerning persons with mental illness in the criminal justice system. He was also active on committees of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychology-Law Society relating to the presentation of expert psychological information in the courts.

Wales also gave generously of his time outside of the classroom. He played in the very first Home Court charity basketball game between Georgetown Law professors and members of Congress in 1988, and in many games since. He acted and sang with students in Georgetown Law’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society theater group. Professor Wales’s love of biking was captured by a Georgetown Law videographer in 2010, when he was filmed guiding 1L students through Washington, D.C., on an Orientation Bike Tour.

Survivors include his wife Jeannie, sons Samuel (C’96, L’00), Zachary (C’98), and Daniel (C’03), and his sister Jane.

Share memories and condolences


Pete was a marvelous actor, a wonderful singer, a great teacher, and all of us will miss him. May his memory be for a blessing.

- Lauren Inker L'87

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments that have already been posted about Pete – he was an original in many ways, and we were lucky to have him as long as we did, even after his devastating illness took hold. Pete several years ago volunteered to go with me on our First Year Gold Mine Trail Orientation Hike, and, wouldn’t you know, it poured buckets that year – the rain was so bad, we were forced to cut the hike short. Pete never complained and seemed to enjoy splashing through the puddles, calling our bird and beaver sitings as we went. Many of you may not know that Pete was my go-to-man on wolves. We shared a love and respect for them and an anger at how the Rocky Mountain States, included his beloved Wyoming, were treating them. We’d share stories and the latest news about their fate – the highs and the lows. Like all of us I will miss Pete in many ways, but I will really miss my wolf man. hope

- Hope Babcock, Professor, Law School

Dear Dean Treanor, Peter Wales was one of the then much smaller faculty when I came to Georgetown Law in 1979. He was personally warm, intellectually welcoming, and a colleague in every positive sense of the term. At the time, he directed the annual productions of Gilbert and Sullivan--and encouraged me to draw upon my eleven years of teaching in the UK to situate Gilbert and Sullivan in the complex and often bewildering texture of British culture. That was another aspect of Peter’s presence: he had a very large human curiosity and he would have been an outstanding anthropologist--the more distant the culture, the more effective. He was delighted when the late Clifford Geertz came to Georgetown Law and gave a scintillating talk--and even more pleased to have dinner with Cliff at my home. Cliff, a contemporary at graduate school, afterward told me that with colleagues like Peter, I had obviously come to the right place. Peter lent all of us a human largeness, a sense of the extraordinary value of ordinary existence, that was both consoling and energizing.

- Norman Birnbaum, Professor Emeritus

I got to know Pete through his participation in Home Court. The courage, positivity and good humor he displayed throughout the ravages of this terrible disease was an inspiration to all who witnessed it.

- Mike Frisch

Pete Wales was a central member of the Georgetown law faculty for decades. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pete at the AALS meeting in Detroit and joining with others in recommending that the faculty consider adding him to our faculty. Pete brought a rich background in the criminal field and became a preeminent expert in law and psychiatry, including the insanity defense in criminal cases. We knew him as a teacher and as a colleague. We also watched him suffer with great dignity through his years with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He taught us all how to handle the problems that come with serious and long-term illness. Indeed, in that respect he was the teacher to all of us. We shall miss him.

- Professor Sherman Cohn

I am very sad, though I knew it was inevitable when Pete told me about his condition when we shared the 2011 graduation stage. Pete was such an important part of Georgetown for so many years and to me, a dear friend who shared much of his life in D.C. and Wyoming and the literary worlds we liked to inhabit and share. He attended every law and society seminar I ran for five years and most of the lively dinners afterward. I taught one of his sons at Georgetown Law and enjoyed good times with Jeannie who was deeply generous and strong. My heart goes out to his family. Bob and I will truly miss the man with the moustache and so many interests beyond the law, including Home Court and the hoops he played with so many of you and my husband Bob. He was a singular man and will be sorely missed. Thank you, Pete, for the friendship you gave so many of us.

- Professor Carrie Menkel-Meadow (University of California Irvine, Georgetown Law)

This is a deeply sad moment, however inevitable it has seemed for so long. Pete struggled courageously for many years with Lou Gehrig's Disease. He inspired with that courage, skewered the pompous with his dry wit, and enriched generations of students with deep insight. Pete's sometimes-scathing skepticism about the roles of psychiatry (& experts more generally) in our civil and criminal justice systems was always spot-on. So was his sense of fairness and decency -- and his willingness to stand up for others when that sense was breached. Pete didn't write a huge amount -- our loss, since his insights and wisdom were difference-making in his field and beyond. But Pete's ideas and character have enhanced the lives of our students, his academic colleagues, legal and mental health practitioners, and many others -- and will continued to do so long after this sad day.

- Professor Gregg Bloche

I too am deeply saddened by this news. Having been one of Pete's students and then his friend, I had the privilege of knowing a wonderful man. He had a terrific and irreverent sense of humor and loved and enjoyed life to its fullest. I was so proud for him and awed by his courage as he continued to visit with us long after his diagnosis. He was a great inspiration to us all. Peace be with you, friend.

- Professor Kristen Tiscione

The loss of Pete is immeasurable. His spirit, zest, and good humor were evident until the end. He treated something which would have decimated the spirits of all of us, with good humor and wry wit. Incredible. His vibrant, witty, up-beat personality was the same in the last months as it was when his family, mine, and Julian Kossow bare-boated with him as our captain in the Virgin Islands twenty years ago! That is a man who was at inner peace and an inspiration to every one of us. His contributions to the Law Center were immeasurable--making cogent observations of our life even after his illness and retirement (continuing to come to lunch with us all when he was in Washington). He will be sorely missed by us and by everyone whose lives he touched.

- Professor Paul Rothstein

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