Ohio State remembers Robert M. Duncan
The Ohio State University is grieving the loss of notable alumnus, former Board of Trustees member, distinguished jurist in residence and longtime friend Robert Morton Duncan, who died today at the age of 85.
Duncan was a two-time graduate of The Ohio State University, having earned a B.S. in 1948 and a J.D. in 1952. His service to the university was exemplary. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for The Ohio State University from 1998 to 2007, serving as board chair from 2006 – 2007. In addition to serving as secretary of the Board of Trustees, and as vice president and general counsel for the university, he was a member of the executive committee of the Presidents Club and chairman of the University Hospital Board.
“We are deeply saddened by Judge Duncan’s passing,” said Robert H. Schottenstein, chair of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees. “His service to the university has been exemplary. Judge Duncan was the personification of principle, compassion and wisdom.”
Duncan broke racial barriers when he became the first black judge elected in Franklin County in 1966 and to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1969. He served on the Ohio Supreme Court until 1971, when he became the first black member of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals. President Richard Nixon appointed Duncan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in 1974, becoming the first black judge appointed to the federal bench in Ohio. It was in this position that Duncan wrote the landmark order ending segregation in the Columbus Public Schools. His fairness, leadership and accessibility to community groups helped ensure a smooth process of desegregation.
He served on the federal bench until 1985, when he joined Jones Day Reavis & Pogue. Other roles he played in his career included attorney examiner for the Ohio Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation, Columbus city prosecutor and chief counsel to the attorney general of Ohio.
“Judge Duncan was a towering figure in the history of our community and this University, which he served so well,” said E. Gordon Gee, president of The Ohio State University. “In a time of great social inequity, he was a voice of reason and dignity, moving humanity forward toward a horizon of equality and justice. Indeed, throughout his long career, he continued to guide us toward our better angels.”
Duncan maintained a close relationship with the Moritz College of Law community, where he was a mentor to students and faculty alike. He was a past president of the College’s Alumni Association and honorary member of the College’s National Council. The college has a professorship, awards and multiple scholarships in his name as the result of donations made by those he inspired.
“I am so fortunate to count myself as one of the hundreds, and likely thousands, of individuals who have benefited from Bob’s wisdom and guidance,” said dean Alan C. Michaels, the Edwin M. Cooperman Professor of Law. “He was an extraordinary mentor whose values were a steady beacon for our community. He will be deeply, deeply missed – there will not be another Bob Duncan – but he will live on in our memories and in our actions inspired and guided by his example.”
He was inducted into the university’s College of Education Hall of Fame and, in 1979, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Moritz.
About The Ohio State University
Founded in 1870, The Ohio State University is a world-class public research university and the leading comprehensive teaching and research institution in the state of Ohio. With more than 63,000 students (including 56,000 in Columbus), a major medical center, 14 colleges, 80 centers, and 175 majors, the university offers its students tremendous breadth and depth of opportunity in the liberal arts, the sciences, and the professions.