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Appreciation: Louis Westerfield, 1949-1996 – Obituary

On August 2-4. 1996. Louis Westerfield — law school dean at three schools, law professor at four schools, author, judge, community leader, and dedicated family man — died of a heart attack in New Orleans.

At the time of his death, he was Dean and Director of the Law Center of the University of Mississippi — the first African American to hold that position. Born in DeKalb, Mississippi, in 1949, his early years were spent in the sharecropper home of his grandparents in rural Mississippi and with his mother in public housing in New Orleans.


His experiences with poverty and racism were critical elements in forming his life-long advocacy of expanded opportunity for those traditionally overlooked by society. He almost didn’t go to college. When he was getting ready to graduate from high school, he went to see the school counselor about taking the test for entering college. But the counselor told him, “Westerfield, there is no need for you to take the ACT. You’re certainly not college material.”


As Westerfield often said about the incident: “Obviously, I didn’t take his advice. But just as obviously, many Others did.” He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Southern University in New Orleans in 1971 mid a Juris Doctor from Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans in 1971.


After a year an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, Westerfield began his career in legal education as an assistant professor and director of the law clinic at Southern University School of Law in Baton Rouge, He then returned to Loyola University School of Law, where he taught subjects ranging from criminal law to constitutional law and became the school’s first tenured African-American professor of law.


In 1979, Westerfield moved his growing family to New York so that he could pursue advanced legal studies Lit Columbia University School of Law, where he received a Master of Laws degree in constitutional and criminal law.


From 1983 to 1986. Westerfield taught at the University of Mississippi School of Law–where, he became the first tenured African-American law professor at that institution. In 1986, Westerfield became dean at North Carolina Central University. While he was dean, the school improved its library, its bar passage rates, and its faculty scholarship. Also in 1986, he authored and published a legal textbook on the law of Louisiana Evidence. Westerfield co-authored a second revised edition of the book in 1991.


In July of 1990, he was selected to become dean of Loyola University School of Law, the first African-American dean in the history of the university. As dean, he made the school’s student body, faculty, and staff more diverse than it had ever been. At the same time, Loyola expanded services and raised record amounts of funds for endowed professorships, scholarships, and the operation of the school.


Westerfield was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Southern University at New Orleans in 1992; an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Dillard University in 1995; and an honorary Doctorate of Laws by Tougaloo College in 1996. His accomplishments were also the subject of a 1995 profile in Ebony magazine.


During the summer of 1994, Louis sat as a Louisiana Court of Appeal judge by appointment of the Louisiana Supreme Court. In July 1994, he accepted the position of dean and director of the law center of the University of Mississippi — again, the first African American to achieve that distinction. His brief administration was distinguished by several notable achievements, including a substantial increase in the school endowment and doubling the number of minority students. Everywhere he taught, Westerfield remained dedicated to community service. He was chair of the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1985-86, He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington. D.C.


Westerfield never gave tip on himself and he would not allow others to give tip on themselves — or on others, either. He was a fighter, People who said he couldn’t do something made him mad and made him work harder. He never forgot how people underestimated hint and disrespected him because he was from a family with little money. He worked his whole life to try to create opportunities so that other people would have a chance.


Sometimes he would make people mad. Like Socrates, he would walk around and ask irritating questions. Proverbs says: “Challenge a wise person, and you will he loved; challenge a fool and you will be hated.” Westerfield assumed that students, co-workers and university administrators were wise, so he challenged everyone to face the truth.


Westerfield may have been ambitious, but he was never ambitious for himself alone. He was always bringing people along with him — constantly trying to better himself, and improve everything and everyone around him. He helped family, friends, students and staff get better schooling, get jobs, and get out of trouble. He lived the saying: “When you’re climbing LIP the ladder, make sure it hangs down enough to allow others to climb up with you.”


His death comes at a particularly inopportune time for others who shared his commitment.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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