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Former law school dean Gray Thoron memorial is Dec. 19

University Photography
Gray Thoron, left in 1972 with student Karen A. Johnson, J.D. '73, and Faust F. Rossi, professor of law.

A memorial service for Gray Thoron, professor emeritus and former dean of Cornell Law School, will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at noon at Sage Chapel. Thoron died at his home at the Kendal of Ithaca on Sept. 18. He was 99.

As dean, Thoron made building a top-quality faculty and substantially increasing the endowment and alumni giving the hallmarks of his tenure. Under his leadership, he considerably expanded the physical plant, most notably with the construction of the Charles Evans Hughes Law Residence Center, commonly known as Hughes Hall.

Thoron inaugurated the guest lecture series that brought to the school distinguished speakers including Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and U.S. Attorney General William P. Rogers. He sought to strengthen the curriculum with subjects that stressed legal philosophy, legal history, comparative law, and public and international law. He initiated an aggressive national recruitment program to reverse declining student enrollment. In 1960, he launched the Cornell Legal Aid Clinic to give advanced students practical experience working directly with indigent clients.

In addition to his administrative and teaching duties he was named to a state commission to investigate and reform the State of New York’s antiquated commitment laws. The recommendations of this two-year study, published in two volumes, were implemented to reflect the new federal policy calling for the deinstitutionalization of state mental hospital patients and for stricter legal safeguards. He was also kept on retainer by the New York state to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He stepped down as dean in 1963 and continued to teach until his retirement in 1987 at age of 70. Soon after his retirement, a former student established a scholarship fund in his name.

Thoron was born in Danvers, Massachusetts, July 14, 1916, the older of two children of Louisa Chapin (Hooper) and Ward Thoron, a lawyer and businessman, in a house with a bullet hole in the front door dating from the Revolutionary War. He graduated in 1938 from Harvard College with honors in American history and earned a LL.B. degree from Harvard Law School in 1941. He served in the military as a combat infantryman in an armored brigade, receiving Purple Heart and Bronze and Silver Star medals.

In 1948, he entered academia as an associate professor of law at the University of Texas Law School and remained there until 1954. He left the Justice Department in 1956 after a two-year stint, during which time he successfully argued a number of cases for the government before the U.S. Supreme Court, to accept the deanship at the Cornell Law School.

In 1939, he married Mary Dwight Clark with whom he raised five children. They were divorced in 1968. In 1971, he married Pattie Porter Holmes, who predeceased him in 2000. They shared a passion for travel and sports and rarely missed a home Cornell football or hockey game. Both were longtime congregants of the First Presbyterian Church of Ithaca.

Survivors include two daughters, Louisa Thoron and Molly D. Thoron-Duran, and two sons, Grenville C. Thoron and Thomas G. Thoron. In 2005, he was predeceased by his oldest daughter, Claire Pyle.

Burial will be private. Donations in his memory can be sent to the Gray Thoron Scholarship Fund at the Cornell Law School or to the Dementia Society of America.

This obituary was excerpted from a longer version that appeared Sept. 26 in the Ithaca Journal.

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Melissa Osgood