About John F. Kuether
Remarks By Former Dean James M. Concannon At Memorial Services For Professor John F. Kuether, January 16, 1999.
It would be difficult enough to say goodbye to a member of the extended family that is our law school faculty after he or she enjoyed a long and productive retirement. It is far more difficult to say goodbye to a current colleague and friend of 25 years who, with the rest of us, taught his last class of the fall semester just six weeks ago. Yet, the outpouring of emails and notes and calls we've received from former students and members of the bar with whom he worked, combined with conversations in the halls with our current students and a resolution issued with genuine affection by our student bar association thursday evening, all cause me to focus not as much on our loss but rather on the enormous impact that John Kuether had as he touched the lives of many, many people.
Being mindful of John's incredible attention to detail, I feel compelled to tell you that 6823 students enrolled in the classes John taught at Washburn University School of Law, which works out, on average, to more than 1 1/2 classes for every graduate of the law school since 1974. To put that fully in perspective, you have to know also that 2/3 of all the students who ever attended Washburn Law did so while John Kuether was here and that his was the 8th longest tenure as a member of the full time faculty in the school's 96 year history.
He was the students' professor of the year for 1989-90 and students wanted to take his classes. He taught every summer and was committed to teaching major, core classes even though he had to sacrifice the luxury of teaching smaller seminars. Not only that, for 17 years he lectured on two topics for nearly every student preparing to take the Kansas bar exam , including those from the University of Kansas and other law schools. As a young lawyer commented in an email posting to the Kansas attorneys internet list this week, "if it weren't for his commercial paper bar review, I likely would be working at McDonald's today." He really did touch a lot of lives.
In addition to all the substantive law he taught, John taught, and modeled for his students better than any of us, so many of the traits and skills that are essential to high quality lawyering: that meticulous attention to detail I mentioned before, a tenacious approach that never let go of a problem until it was solved, an ability to see and the will to look for every imaginable side of an issue even when others saw only one side at the start. How often you would ask him what you thought was a good question and, instead of a direct answer, his response would begin, "now, if you want to make it harder..." I'm not sure he ever met a precedent case he couldn't distinguish. He modeled a special work ethic - I'm not sure the word "no" was in his vocabulary when a student or colleague or alum asked for help or there was something to do to make students' experience at the school better. And on today's hot button issue in the legal profession, he modeled "civility". He formed opinions as strong as anyone I know and could argue long and forcefully for them. Yet as a colleague observed this week, he may have been the least judgmental person any of us has ever met.
He had so many impacts. His fingerprints literally are all over the law of this state, and while some of it is simply the law that lawyers use, much of it structures the ordinary transactions of many Kansans. Through more than 16 years service on the Probate Law Advisory Committee of the Kansas Judicial Council, he helped draft major legislation in his specialty areas of decedents' estates and trusts. He was the leading advocate within the Council and before the legislature for adoption in Kansas of major and controversial revisions of the Uniform Probate Code. He testified more than 30 times before various committees of the Kansas legislature. He authored Kansas comments to the latest revision of the Uniform Commercial Code and helped draft Kansas title standards, both of which will be used for years to come. He impacted the law nationally as well, through his annual articles on significant developments in the law for the Journal of the American Bar Association Section on Real Property, Probate and Trust Law and his work on the state law committee for the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel to which he was elected in 1993.
Beyond the public record, each of us has his or her favorite memories of John: I heard from students for whom John was an advocate on our admissions committee. Others who remember the easy rider professor who, fearless and helmetless, roared up to the law school every morning on his motorcycle. I remember the professor as sleuth who took such glee in exposing in the classroom the student who had been signing a fictional law student, Ned Primmer, onto our seating charts for 1 1/2 years after acquiring 40 actual undergraduate credit hours for him. There was the unbridled enthusiasm he had for everything he did. The way he managed to know something the rest of us didn't know about just about everything and always had an idea for a different way to do things. The way he allowed everyone to use him as a personal financial planner and employee benefits advisor - and how he was more bullish than Merrill Lynch - I'm sure he would been amused that the market fell 500 points in the three days after news of his passing hit the street - and he would have been able to articulate a cause and effect relationship!
The way he told us with such pride and in such exquisite detail what Rebecca and Ted were doing that we all began to feel like step parents. His painstakingly precise analysis of the likely vote in Annie's races for the House of Representatives, seemingly not just home-by-home but room-by-room. The amazing ability he had, as one faculty member put it, to snatch seriousness from the jaws of humor. All that pent up energy he had, mental and physical, that led him on the golf course to take before every shot what may have been the most ferocious practice swing in golfing history, to, as he explained it, "get it out of my system." There was that attention to detail again after every shot as he instantly shared with us his analysis of his swing and identified that single small flaw that kept it from being the perfect golf shot of a lifetime. That always made us smile - and will for a very long time.
I also remember the awful times during the first year he was here when each of us took our failed turn at matchmaking, trying to make sure he would put roots down here and not be tempted to return to his more familiar east coast. Happily, of course, there came the time in 1975 when he persuaded Annie to come from St. Louis to Topeka to meet his unique friends and colleagues. It was obvious instantly this was something special. Annie and John, "the mad professor" as she was wont to call him, became catalysts for the social interaction that helped build collegiality and bond the faculty. We will always remember the TGIO parties - thank god it's over - they hosted on the last day of each semester after we had finished classes and before we had papers to grade - and how they always wanted you to stay - to linger longer at the end - because that's when the really serious conversations - the fun part - could start. And you could always count on them, for the same reason, to linger among the last to leave the other events we had. That's a good part of why it's so hard to accept that John has left us so early - he's never been early before! But I'm sure, having brought us together again, John would have us linger longer now - and would have us share maybe more than one more for the road.