In Memoriam: Dean Emeritus David J. McCarthy, Jr.

October 2, 2020

David J. McCarthy, Jr. (L’60, L’62, H’83), the 12th dean of Georgetown University Law Center, died October 1. He was 85.

He joined the Georgetown Law faculty in 1965, and served as Dean from 1975 to 1983.

“My heart goes out to the McCarthy family,” said Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor. “Dave was one of the towering figures in the history of Georgetown Law. He was a wonderfully gifted teacher, a generous and selfless colleague, and a dean who worked tirelessly to build our law school as a great academic institution. His legacy here is powerful, including the great faculty of scholar-teachers he hired. He was an extraordinary leader, and he was beloved.”

Dean McCarthy in his office.McCarthy grew up in West Hartford, Conn. and earned a B.A. with honors from Fairfield University. He then attended Georgetown, receiving his J.D. and LL.M., and serving as managing editor of The Georgetown Law Journal. After law school, he clerked for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, then worked in the Appellate Section in the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 1963, McCarthy returned to Georgetown Law, taking a leave of absence from the government to direct the District of Columbia Bail Project, which was based at the Law Center, backed by the Judicial Conference of the D.C. Circuit, and funded with a grant from the Ford Foundation. The project’s findings ultimately led to the Bail Reform Act of 1966, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

McCarthy joined the Georgetown Law faculty in 1965, and over his career taught courses in Local Government Law, Property, State and Local Taxation and Finance, Evidence, and Torts, as well as assorted seminars. He also served as an Assistant and Associate Dean before being appointed Dean and Executive Vice President for Law Center Affairs in 1975.

During his tenure as Dean, McCarthy worked to increase the size of the Law Center campus and faculty and enhance the interdisciplinary educational experience. He led a collaborative process to produce the Law Center’s 1978 Long Range Plan, and under that plan he developed a new administrative structure, hired many senior administrators and professors, championed the growth of clinical programs, and executed the purchase of the property on which the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library now stands. In recognition of his significant contributions to Georgetown Law, he was awarded an honorary LL.D. in 1983.

Professor Wallace Mlyniec (L’70), who joined the Georgetown Law faculty in 1973, remembers McCarthy as a kind and respected administrator who both put the school on a firmer financial footing and also enjoyed dressing up as Santa Claus for the annual staff holiday party.

“David was an exquisite human being. He was a great leader, but he also had a human touch,” said Mlyniec. “He loved the law school. He wanted to build up a world-class faculty, and he had one guiding principle. David said to his hiring committees all the time, ‘You should never hire someone who isn’t smarter than you. If you hire someone who isn’t smarter, we’re not going to get any better.’”

McCarthy returned to the classroom following his deanship, and in 1996 he was named the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of State and Local Government Law. He and co-author William Valente published a case book, Local Government Law, Cases and Materials and a book, Local Government Law in a Nutshell. From 2001 to 2004, he served on the Law Center’s Board of Visitors, and in 2010 he received the Paul R. Dean Alumni Award.

In retirement, he and his wife Mary (N’60) lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, where for many years he taught in a life-long learning program associated with the University of Virginia. The McCarthys’ four daughters also had deep ties to Georgetown. The late Emilie Richey (C’83), Mary Ward (C’85), and Carolyn McCarthy (C’86) earned undergraduate degrees at Georgetown, and Katherine McCarthy worked for many years at the Law Center. After her untimely death from cancer in 2015, a staff award was named in her memory; the monthly Katherine McCarthy Award recognizes “those who, like Katherine, build up the Georgetown Law community by seeing needs and filling them with personal service.”

McCarthy’s many roles in academic and professional organizations included serving on committees with the American Law Institute, American Bar Institute, Association of American Law Schools, Jesuit International Volunteers, the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency and the Citizens Choice National Commission on the IRS and the Individual Taxpayer.

Submit your memories of Dean McCarthy that will appear in the section below.

In Remembrance

Dean McCarthy was a truly wonderful man and colleague. Aided by his Associate Dean for Clinical Education, John Kramer, he realized before any other law dean that by concentrating on clinical education, he could put his law school on the national map.

That vision helped catapult the Law Center into one of the country's premier schools. When U.S. News started ranking law schools, Georgetown was Number 1 in the nation for clinical education, and it has held that status ever since.

Dean McCarthy also radiated happiness and infected the faculty with his jollity, which helped to explain why he was frequently called upon to be Santa Clause at faculty/staff holiday parties.

He was such a good professor and dean that the faculty was stunned when he announced his retirement while in his mid-60s, but he pointed out that there was more to life than working 80 hours a week (a message that not all of us have yet taken to heart). I have missed him every day since he left our campus.

— Philip Schrag, Georgetown Law Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law

I had Dean McCarthy for Evidence in 1972. A wonderful teacher and person. His daughter Katherine was a very special colleague and person.

— Michael Frisch, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'74), Ethics Counsel

When I joined the faculty in 1988, Dave McCarthy was already five years out of the deanship, and I took for granted many of the changes he had brought about while in that office.

The one transformation I did realize he made was crucial for my development as a law professor, his hiring of a cohort of brilliant and diverse scholars ten or so years my senior who made Georgetown an intellectually stimulating as well as humane place to be.

I got to know him better when, after my first year, I was asked to teach Property, which he had taught for some time. Some of his tips, like writing up lectures as notes in my materials, I still use. But the most important lesson came when he let me sit in on one of his classes. What really mattered, I realized as I watched him, was not the day’s dollop of doctrine but how Dave got them to think like lawyers and act like professionals. If, as he once said, he relied upon formality and the “‘discomfort’ of the unexpected” cold call, thanks to his humor and after-class solicitude, his students always knew he was on their side, not least of all because he had once been a Georgetown law student too.

— Daniel Ernst, Georgetown Law Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal History

I was deeply, deeply saddened to hear of the death of my good friend, mentor, and sponsor (when I first came to Georgetown), Dean David McCarthy. He was the most marvelous combination of humor, good cheer, extreme competence, articulateness, and genuine deep interest in people that one is ever likely to meet in life, and he will live on in the memory of all who knew him and in the institutional memory of the institution whose greatness he helped create, Georgetown Law.

He always had time to warmly engage with any of us, even when you accidentally ran into him In the hall. Just as one example of his penchant to put everyone at ease with a little humor, I remember when he and Bill Greenhalgh dropped into my class to inspect my teaching (in a class of 100) as part of their duties prior to my permanent hiring or promotion (I forget which). I was obviously non-plussed as I gestured to them and introduced them. Dave said “this is the day us oldsters look in on our stellar new prodigies“ or something to that effect, which got a laugh and eased my nerves.

Dave and I rode home together on the subway in the evenings for many years, sometimes accompanied by Tom Krattenmaker. Dave’s wit and wisdom was on full display all the way on these trips. Dave taught Evidence like I did, and he constantly provided insight from his teaching that greatly enriched my teaching. But his wisdom wasn’t confined to subjects he had taught. Tom taught Antitrust, and Dave’s ability to discuss that in depth too, astonished both of us. On matters less lofty as well, he was a great and engaging conversationalist.

Dave and I also put together a program In which he and I and some others of the faculty taught intensive hands-on trial and evidence training for the trial lawyers in several federal agencies, like the FTC. These courses involved actual on-your-feet practice problems we designed. Although I had been a trial lawyer, I was awed by Dave’s command of the practicalities involved, his designing of realistic and WORKABLE problems that were very teachable and fostered intellectual and practical skills enormously. As in his running of the law center as dean later, he was a consummate master of administration in designing and running these courses.

I will miss my friend and colleague dearly. I can only imagine what his family Is experiencing from the loss of this great and kindly man. It was apparent what a caring father and husband Dave was whenever Dave and I talked. His family, of whom he was very, very proud, came up often and was always in his mind. My wife Thelma and I extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to them and will have them warmly in our hearts always.

— Paul Rothstein, Professor, Georgetown Law

Funny, interesting, kind, brilliant, memorable.

— Nicholas Guarente, Georgetown Law Graduate

So sad to hear of Professor McCarthy's death. He was a wonderful teacher, one of the best I had at Georgetown. May his memory be for a blessing.

— Lauren Inker, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'87)

Professor McCarthy was an excellent professor whose Local Government Law class I very much enjoyed. He was also a great guy. R.I.P.

— Robert S. Brennen, Principal, Miles & Stockbridge P.C. (L'87)

At the end of first year Torts, I commented to Dean McCarthy that, despite his stated goal of teaching us to "think like lawyers," I didn't feel my thought processes had been changed, but merely amped up by the pressures of the Socratic method. His reply was, "Well, every once in a while we don't succeed." I have thought of him every one of the countless times in the half century since then that my wife and others have accused me of "thinking like a lawyer."

— John Jimison, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'75)

Professor McCarthy was the most important influence for me during my years at GULC. I was in his Property class as a first year. His enthusiasm for the law, and his love of fostering intense discussion about legal concepts, set the stage for all who had the privilege to learn from him. He remained as an unofficial mentor to me, generously providing advice throughout my years at Georgetown and beyond, and providing a reference for my clerkship. I often think of him now, and I will continue to do so. He was a good man. That is the highest echelon in my book. GULC has lost a giant, and I send my wishes to his family that his memory will be a blessing.

— Richard Nleson, Georgetown Law Graduate

I am so terribly sorry to hear this news. I was always so impressed personally and professionally with Dean McCarthy. I learned so much from him, including by the way he conducted himself and treated people. I feel fortunate for having had the privilege of knowing him. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McCarthy family.

— Tim Slavin, Georgetown Law Graduate

Dean McCarthy taught my first class (Property) at GULC. He made each of us stand and respond to questions he would pose. He would say that it was important that we learn to think on our feet. I was terrified when my name was called and I had to stand and recite. Somehow, I got through the first moment and was greatly relieved when I discovered I was prepared. He was a brilliant man who knew everyone’s name in the class and would let you sink or swim on your own. I was so proud when I found the strength to engage with him during those absolutely terrifying moments. I had the utmost respect for him and attended every class prepared for each potential challenge. I will always remember Dean McCarthy and will always appreciate how he taught us to do the work that enables us to stay prepared.

— Bruce Gamble, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dpwd LLP, Georgetown Law Graduate

It has been quite while since I took Torts with Prof. McCarthy. I vividly remember the real interest that he took in his students, especially those of us who were first year students and totally overwhelmed.

— Dave Folz, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'73)

I knew Dave before, and then after he became, Dean. Personally and professionally, he was extraordinary and will be sorely missed.

— Alan D. Gordon , Georgetown Law Graduate (L'73)

While a graduate fellow at the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown, I took Prof. McCarthy's course on State and Local Tax and Finance, a totally new area for me. An excellent professor, he thoughtfully questioned me about my draft paper, which was eventually published. I can only imagine how many students and colleagues he inspired and advanced in ways like this and beyond. I am grateful to have studied with him. May he be long remembered and rest in peace.

— Jane E Schukoske

Simply put, one of the finest professors ever at Georgetown Law. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McCarthy family and the Georgetown Law community who all share in this loss. Rest in peace.

— B. John Bedrossian, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'88)

Prof. McCarthy was a great person and wonderful Evidence teacher. My condolences to your family.

— Aidan Jones, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'74)

Katherine McCarthy was my freshman and sophomore year roommate at Notre Dame. I met Dean McCarthy when Katherine and I were moving into our dorm on the very first day of college. Within the first few minutes of having been introduced to Katherine and her mom and dad, and before I knew of his association with GULC, I said with the unearned confidence of an 18 year old, that I was going to Georgetown Law School after my graduation from Notre Dame. Dean McCarthy chuckled and said "that's very good to hear. I work there!" Of course, I did end up at GULC, but I did not really interact with Dean McCarthy at the Law School. My experiences with him were as the kind father of my college roommate, and I will always have good memories of both him and Katherine, who loved him dearly. My sincere condolences to Ms. McCarthy and the McCarthy family.

— Carol Dominguez Shay, Katherine McCarthy's College Roommate

My heartfelt condolences to Dean McCarthy's Family and loved ones!

— Jose' R.E. Batista, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'80)

He was an exceptional teacher for property which was not an easy subject; and he was a very nice person. He was one of my favorite professors.

— Julie E. Rones, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'88)

I learned a lot from him, as a teacher of course, but also as an early boss. He let me make mistakes and gently corrected me. I benefited from his leadership, his example, his mentorship, and his values. He also had a great sense of humor. Georgetown Law is in his debt.

— Bill Bridge, Georgetown Law Graduate (1974), Assistant Dean for Student Affairs during his first year as Dean, 1975-76

Professor McCarthy was a wonderful, entertaining teacher who clearly loved teaching and his students. I still remember some of his classes and the lessons learned. I am sorry to hear he passed away and I am sure he will be missed. He was bigger than life. My sincere condolences. Jeff Scherr, Class of 1975 GULC

— Jeffrey H. Scherr, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'75), Lawyer and Partner at Kramon&Graham, P.A.

Dean McCarthy was a wonderful man and an outstanding professor. As Dean and a former Professor, I had asked him for a letter of recommendation for my confirmation to a political appointment as an agency director for Prince George's County Maryland (my first job out of law school). Assuming the letter had been sent as agreed upon, I was utterly amazed that on the day of my confirmation he had driven out to the County seat in Upper Marlboro and read the letter in person to the County Council. They were impressed. I was awed and shall never forget his kindness. RIP Dean McCarthy.

— Albert R. Winn, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'77), Senior Director, Greenberg Traurig, former Member U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2008)

It feels like ages ago (it has been) since I sat in Dave McCarthy's Property class. Our first year section had a carefully selected slate of the best of the best, and Dave was one of them. He was a great teacher and a gifted lawyer. I still think I understand the law against perpetuities. I am a better lawyer having been taught by Dave.

— Bob Flora, Georgetown Law Graduate

Dean McCarthy, your legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of individuals like myself who profited from your sage counsel. You believed in me, you hired me and every time I saw you, even in a location removed from the Law Center, you never failed to let me know that you knew that I was doing a good job. Your confidence in me never wavered, and I will never forget your kindness and caring.

— Marilyn Tucker, Director, Alumni Career Services & International Internships

To the McCarthy family. Please know that you are in the Thoughts and Prayers of my family and I. I had the opportunity and privilege of working with our beloved Dean McCarthy who contributed greatly to my personal and professional growth and development. Please allow to say share with you these words of comfort. "It's not what we have in our life, but who we have our life that counts" J.M. Laurence. May God keep your family in his eternal grace.

— David W. Wilmot, Former Dean of Admissions, Georgetown Law

People ask me when I knew I wanted to teach law. I tell them, "on the first day of Property class with Professor McCarthy." He made Property fun--no small feat. I think of him often while teaching and tell my Property classes stories about him acting out the transfer of seisin in Old England. It still makes me giggle.

What a wonderful teacher and role model he was. His lighthearted and entertaining manner in the classroom was not only effective, but it also reflected such affection for the subject matter and the students. As his Research Assistant, he entrusted me to help with his work, which helped me to gain confidence as a lawyer. When I walked in the door, he would stop working and ask me how I was. And he'd listen. What a difference that bit of caring made to me. He made calls to help me get a clerkship and wrote to tell me he was proud when I started publishing.

For me, Georgetown Law was a friendly, supportive environment to learn and grow. I think Dave's caring, generosity, and sense of humor infected the entire school. May his warm personality remain part of his legacy Georgetown Law. And may his memory be a blessing to his family and to the Georgetown Law community.

— Kati Kovacs, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'95), Professor, Rutgers Law

Dear Dean McCarthy and Family, you were the Dean of the Georgetown Law School when I attended from 1977-1980. I always remember you as a kind, loving, caring, and considerate Dean who cared SO MUCH for us students. If there was an issue, you always tried to resolve it in favor of the students. We students loved you as our Dean. You led the law school with dignity, grace, and humor, and you were always kind to everyone. I am so sorry to hear of your passing. I will miss you. I wish your family love and healing in this sad time. Thank you for all you did for me and all of the other law students whose lives you touched over the years at Georgetown Law. You will be deeply missed.

— Gail Grossman, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'80)

My husband, who is also a law school graduate, joins me in expressing our deep sympathies and abiding gratitude for everything Dean McCarthy did for the two of us. When I first started, I was working on Capitol Hill for U.S. Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink (Hawaii) and needed an adjustment on my schedule. I met with Dean McCarthy who arranged for me to take a day course in lieu of the Saturday course that conflicted with my work schedule. He made it a point to frequently monitor my progress and to offer encouragement at every step. I was pregnant twice during my courses and Dean McCarthy always expressed his pleasure in my pregnancy and with motherhood. I loved him as my Dean and as a true father figure, but most of all, I just loved him because he himself was there for me whenever I felt overwhelmed or stressed. To his family, thank you for sharing him with me. He always spoke endearingly of the women in his life and never allowed me to think I was not equal to the task of full-time employment (44 hours a week, including Saturday mornings) and night school studies. I was truly blessed to have him as my guiding angel.

— Marie Nakanishi Milks, Georgetown Law Graduate (L'72)

David McCarthy was the dean who hired me in 1980. He was a wonderful, thoughtful man who taught me so much about law school administration. I learned so much from during our time together. He set high standards for the Law Center and for all of us who worked for him, doing so with a keen intellect, compassion and humor. I am so thankful for our time together and the opportunity he gave me to work at a great institution, Georgetown University Law Center!

— Everett Bellamy, Georgetown Law Former Assistant Dean and Adjunct Professor of Law

Thank you from the entire Georgetown community.

— Nory Dianne Miano, Georgetown Law Student (LL.M. '21)