College of Law Mourns the Loss of Professor Randy Bezanson

January 26, 2014

Members of the Law School Community,

With a heavy heart, I write to share the sad news of the death of our beloved colleague, Randall P. Bezanson, the David H. Vernon Professor of Law.  Randy, as he was known to his many friends, died on Saturday, January 25, in San Antonio, Texas, at the home of his daughter Melissa Bezanson Shultz surrounded by his loving family.   He confronted his long illness with unforgettable grace and courage.  We are grateful for the many years Randy was our colleague, and we deeply mourn his loss.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Professor Bezanson earned his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 1968 and his J.D. summa cum laude here at the University of Iowa College of Law in 1971.  He was a star student, graduating first in his class and serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Iowa Law Review.  After law school, he was a law clerk first to the Honorable Roger Robb on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and then the following year to the Honorable Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court.  In 1973, Randy returned home and joined our faculty.  He quickly established himself as one the nation’s leading experts on the First Amendment, libel law, and mass communications law.

In 1979, at the age of 32, Professor Bezanson was appointed by then President Willard “Sandy” Boyd to be the University’s Vice President for Finance and University Services.  He served until 1984, directing one of the then-largest budgets in state government.  During his tenure, he confronted budget cuts, hiring slowdowns, reversions, and salary freezes, and was also engaged in three successful capital improvement projects, including the construction of our Boyd Law Building.

Professor Bezanson left Iowa in 1988 to become Dean at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, where he served with great distinction.  He returned to our faculty after the completion of his deanship as a visiting professor in 1994, rejoining us as a member of the full-time faculty in 1996.  Except for a brief visit to the University of Arizona Law School, he was not to leave us again.  In 1998, Professor Bezanson was named the Charles E. Floete Distinguished Professor of Law, and in 2006 he became the inaugural holder of the David H. Vernon professorship, named for a dear friend and colleague who preceded Randy in death.

Professor Bezanson’s teaching centered on constitutional law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and mass communication law.  He was an extraordinary teacher, recognized in 2009 by the conferral of the President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence, the University of Iowa’s highest teaching honor.  His scholarship spanned the fields of administrative law, constitutional law, the First Amendment, defamation and privacy law, law and medicine, and the history of freedom of the press.  The author of dozens of articles, his work was published in leading law journals, and other scholars frequently rely upon his insights.  Professor Bezanson was also the author, co-author, or editor of eight books, two monographs, and six book chapters.   His book with co-authors Gilbert Cranberg and John Soloski, Libel Law and the Press: Myth and Reality, received the National Distinguished Service Award for Research in Journalism in 1988 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi.   A committed scholar to the very end, Randy was circulating a draft of a new article for comments at the time of his death.

Professor Bezanson drafted statutes for Iowa on matters relating to the mentally ill and to life-sustaining procedures.  He also was a member of the American Law Institute (ex officio) and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.  In the latter capacity, he helped to draft proposed legislation on matters ranging from the rights of the terminally ill to defamation.  He was a member of the Iowa Bar and a leader in the Iowa City and University of Iowa communities.

Randy will be remembered by his colleagues for his rigorous mind, his great wit, his unyielding commitment to legal education, his deep devotion to using writing as a vehicle for sharpening students’ minds, his unfailing willingness to read and comment on colleagues’ drafts, and his instinctive questioning of unspoken assumptions.  Many of those qualities were on daily display around the faculty lunch table, to which Randy invariably came with a topic worthy of careful thought and discussion.  His students will remember him as a gifted and committed teacher, learned scholar, and wonderful mentor.  His greatest professional pride came from his students’ achievements.  Life in the Boyd Law Building will not be the same without him.

Randy was preceded in death by his wife, Elaine Croyle Bezanson.  He is survived by their two children, Melissa Bezanson Shultz and Peter Bezanson, and five grandchildren.

We will gather with the family to celebrate Randy and a life exceptionally well-lived on Saturday, February 15, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the Levitt Center for University Advancement.  The family has asked that in lieu of flowers memorials be directed to the Randall Bezanson Memorial Fund at the University of Iowa Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, IA, 52244. To share a memory or leave a condolence, please click here.

With deep sadness,

Gail Agrawal
Dean and F. Wendell Miller Professor of Law

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Read his  obituary in the Iowa City Press Citizen.