Jo Desha Lucas, 1921-2010

On May 9, 2010, The Law School lost one of its longest-serving faculty members. Jo Desha Lucas, Arnold I. Shure Professor of Urban Law, Emeritus, left us after spending nearly sixty years at the Law School-more than half our history. Even at age 88, Professor Lucas was still very much an active part of the Chicago Law family. He continued coming in to the Law School until shortly before his death and was working on a new edition of his admiralty casebook with Professor Randy Schmidt.

Professor Lucas was warmly remembered at a memorial service on June 17 at the Law School where friends, family, and several members of the Law School community spoke. Dean Michael Schill began the proceedings by sharing some of the comments he had received from alumni about Professor Lucas. Alumni remember Professor Lucas as a wonderful classroom teacher-several took Admiralty, though they had no interest in the subject, just to take another course with him. Others remember the courses he taught in American Indian Law-at their request. In their notes to Dean Schill, they say he was "a uniquely informative and entertaining educator," "outstanding in all respects," and that he "taught the law not only with great skill, but with uncommon grace."

Many of his former students fondly remember him outside the classroom as well. They say he was "a joy to be around," "nice to a fault to us all," and "a wonderfully wry man." Three years ago, he joined members of the class of 1957 at their 50th Reunion. The conversation turned to the fact that virtually all of the alumni in attendance had come to the Law School on scholarships, and they were delighted to realize that Professor Lucas, then Dean of Students, had been instrumental in making sure they got those scholarships. It was a long-awaited opportunity to thank him.

Nearly every alumnus who wrote to Dean Schill brought up the mint juleps. For many decades, it was Professor Lucas's tradition to take over the bar at Wine Mess just before the Kentucky Derby and demonstrate the proper method for making mint juleps. Alumni who never even had him for class have said they remember this as clear as day and that it is one of their fondest memories of law school. One alum remembers the demonstration thusly: "When he made mint juleps for us, he had all the ingredients including special bourbon, powdered sugar, ice, and mint. After he showed us how to make one properly, he then said, 'well I don't really like sugar in my drink very much, and I can do without the mint, and ice really isn't necessary,' and then he drank a nice tall shot of straight bourbon."

Below we have reprinted a piece about Professor Lucas that ran in the Fall 1986 issue of the Law School Record. We have also included here some of the many photos we have from his time at the Law School, and, of course, his famous mint julep recipe. We hope you will enjoy this tribute to our fine colleague, teacher, and friend. Professor Lucas represented many of the best things we like to believe the Law School is, and we will miss him very much.


A conversation with Jo Desha Lucas is both a pleasure and a problem. It is a pleasure to listen to his voice, with its measured tones and southern accent that more than thirty years of life in Chicago have failed to bury. It is enjoyable just to talk with this courteous gentleman, who will converse amusingly on almost any topic. His incisive wit is so gently expressed that the casual listener will impale himself on its barbs without even having realized he has done so. Only a twitch at the corner of his mouth reveals that Lucas is enjoying the joke. The problem lies in getting him to talk about his own achievements. Professor Lucas is a modest man who sees no need to push himself to the forefront of the world's attention.

Jo Desha Lucas, the Arnold I. Shure Professor of Urban Law, is the only southerner on the Law School's faculty. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he is a descendant of the distinguished Desha family (then pronounced "de shay") of Kentucky. Joseph Desha was a member of Congress and a brigadier general in theWar of 1812. From 1820 to 1824 he was also governor of Kentucky. Professor Lucas is not named for him, however, but for Joseph's grandson, Jo Desha, so called because his father, the governor's son, had been named Lucius Junius Brutus. Lucius had vowed that his own children would all have monosyllabic names. The first Jo is distinguished for having fought the last duel in Kentucky, shooting a Yankee who had insulted himin a bar.The shooting was not fatal. Not all the Deshas were so considerate of their adversaries, however. Jack Desha was convicted of murderduring his father's term of office as governor. Joseph Desha pardoned him, thereby causing a juicy scandal. Professor Lucas relates this tale with evident enjoyment.

Lucas is also proud of his ties to The University of Chicago. Through a collateral branch of his family he is distantly related to Sophonisba Breckenridge, who was the first woman graduate of the Law School in 1904 and a pioneer in the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, which later grew into the University's School of Social Service Administration. Jo Desha Lucas first came to the Law School in the fall of 1952, from Columbia University, where he had just received his LLM degree. He had graduated from the University of Virginia with the LLB degree in 1951. He began his career at the Law School as a Bigelow teaching fellow, but in December of 1952, Sims Carter, the Dean of Students, suffered a heart attack and was forced to resign his post. The Dean of the Law School, Edward Levi, wanted the position to go to a faculty member. Jo Lucas was appointed and became Assistant Professor of Law. He took up his duties in January 1953. He remained Dean of Students until 1961, when he went back to full-time teaching and research, as Professor of Law.

For generations of students, Jo Desha Lucas was not only the professor who taught them courses in State and Local Government and Law Revision, he was also the figure they turned to on all matters of admissions and scholarships and for formal advice. Former students of his remember him fondly for his practical and sympathetic help as Dean of Students and for his classes, peppered with anecdotes and colorful imagery. He was Chairman of the Admissions Committee and the Grades, Rules, and Requirements Committee, but neither committee met a single time during those nine years. One of his tasks was to deal with the large number of petitions for readmission from those who had failed their first year. At that time the pool of candidates applying to law schools was much smaller than today and entry requirements were more relaxed. Nevertheless, only those who could meet the high academic standards demanded by the University of Chicago Law School could continue their career beyond the first year.

To current generations of students Jo Lucas is one of the more reclusive figures in the Law School, thought of as having "something to do with Moore's Federal Practice." In fact they are correct, but his involvement is much more than just "something." He has been the major reviser of the work first brought out in the 1930s by James William Moore, while the latter was a member of the Law School faculty. One of the two standard works on federal civil procedure, the Federal Practice has grown over the years from its original four-volume size to more than twenty volumes. For many years all the annual supplements to the work were written by Professor Lucas alone. Although these annual updates are now written by a team of six or seven scholars, Professor Lucas is still the chief editor and reads and edits the whole work. If pressed, Professor Lucas will admit that he has written more than half of the revisions to the original work. Lucas's work is vitally important to the practice of law. No practicing lawyer can be without a treatise on federal practice and procedure. Jo Lucas knows the worth of what he does, but this very private man refuses to seek public acclaim for his work.

Professor Lucas has had a long and abiding interest in how local governments work and the rules that control them. His courses on state and local government and taxation probe the problems of state and city government at a local level and examine the rules that affect the individual most directly and immediately. In 1982 Lucas was appointed the Arnold I. Shure Professor of Urban Law. This professorship was established in 1971 in honor of Arnold Shure, who graduated from the Law School in 1929.

As one of the leading authorities in the field of practice and procedure, Lucas is a member and former chairman of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee and has also served as Reporter to the Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules for the federal courts. He is also an expert in maritime law and a third edition of his Cases in Admiralty, a standard work in the field, is currently in preparation.

Jo Lucas's southern heritage, wonderful, dry humor, and his years of close involvement with the students come together in the Making of the Perfect Mint Julep, a ritual he has occasionally performed for the students' enjoyment at the Law SchoolWine Mess, held the day before the Kentucky Derby. Dressed in a white linen suit, using sterling julep cups and a sterling hammer to crush the ice, he solemnly demonstrates the best way of creating a mint julep. It begins with crushing the mint in the cups with a little sugar, and includes the choice of the correct newspaper to insulate the ice-filled cups from the table. The Louisville Courier-Journal is the paper of choice if the mint has been bruised; if it has been crushed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch is the preferred publication. Throughout the demonstration Lucas maintains a solemn and dignified mien. Past generations of students still recall with amusement the unexpected climax to the ritual.

Jo Desha Lucas has offered to invent a complete new history of his life  and family, full of drama and swashbuckling adventure, that he feels would be "much more exciting" than the truth.This quiet,modest, reserved, witty, eccentric, scholarly man has a story all his own. Why improve on the truth?