One of the most beautiful spaces in our law school building is the Library Commons.  It is sunny, warm and inviting even on the grayest of days. Visit it, and you’ll find quiet (or not so quiet) conversations, folks reading or just enjoying a cup of coffee or a baked treat from Arsagas.  When we were designing our new building, our former Law Library Director Herb Cihak, the Dean then, Richard Atkinson, and the library committee chair, Steve Sheppard, hoped to make the library more accommodating, and welcoming  not just to law students but to the whole university community.  As we now know this was a great idea, and the Commons brings folks from around the campus to our building (which I think is a good thing).  This space was made possible by the generosity of Jim and Nancy Blair.

 

There’s a bit of a story behind this gift that is special to me.  Jim and Nancy are my neighbors and friends.  Early in my deanship, we were looking for gifts to complete the building. Jim, after seeing the area, agreed to make a gift. He did so, partly to encourage me in my new role.  He said, “I want to give you your first big gift. I have faith that you’re going to be a great dean, and I want the gift to be a reminder that you can do it.” That gift resulted in the Jim Blair Library Commons. It did encourage me, and I remain grateful to Jim for his support of the law school and of me (especially since he knew me before the deanship 🙂 ).

Friends of Jim & Nancy joined the new Dean of Law School, Stacy Leeds, and Chancellor David Gearhart, at the law school on July 13th 2011, to dedicate this very special space, and to honor two special friends of the School of Law and the University.  Dean Leeds welcomed everyone and extended her gratitude for the warm welcome she has received since her appointment this summer. She spoke of “the remarkable bond between the University and its alumni,” and how, “The University of Arkansas engraves the name of each graduate on Senior Walk and, in turn, our alumni hold a special place in their hearts for their alma mater.”  Dean Leeds noted, “Distinguished graduates like Jim Blair not only achieve great professional success, they generously support the university through their leadership and philanthropy.”  She thanked Jim for his generosity, vision and his wonderful gift to our students and campus community.

Chancellor Gerhart was the next speaker.  His remarks reflected Jim’s life of service and his and Nancy’s gracious generosity.

“It is fitting that today we celebrate two vital factors in the school’s rise to the forefront of legal education – this beautiful facility and the vision of esteemed graduates and supporters like Jim Blair.

“The law school building, highlighted by the Jim Blair Library Commons, is literally second-to-none.

“Our students have a state-of-the-art facility in which to learn the law and prepare themselves for lives of leadership and service.

“The Jim Blair Library Commons, in particular, has become a forum for the exchange of ideas, and not just for the law school community.

“It is a university commons in the purest sense.

“This room plays host to scholars from every part of our campus, people who are drawn here by the promise of enlightened conversation and a 20 ounce skinny latte.

“It only makes sense, then, that this space was made possible by Jim Blair.

“He is a lawyer. A student of philosophy and religion. A patron of the arts.

“He’s said that if he hadn’t gone into law, he’d be an archaeologist or a novelist.

“He is a one-man university commons who has given back in innumerable ways to his alma mater.

“Mr. Blair is former chairman and member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.

“He is a member of the Board of Advisors and served on the Campaign for the Twenty-first Century Steering Committee.

“He is a Tower of Old Main and a recipient of the Citation of Distinguished Alumni.

“His philanthropic contributions to the university include the Diane Divers Blair Chair in Political Science, the Diane Divers Blair Collection at Mullins Library, and countless other generous gifts.

“His philanthropy has made an overwhelmingly positive difference in our community, most notably through his landmark gift to the Fayetteville Public Library.

“Mr. Blair has been an outstanding leader, having served as chairman and member of the Arkansas Board of Higher Education, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and as vice president of the Clinton for President Committee.

“And he has achieved distinction as a lawyer — in private practice, as longtime general counsel of Tyson Foods, and as a Special Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“If all that doesn’t convince you that we’re talking about a pretty amazing guy, I should tell you that, for the sake of brevity, I was forced to leave out most of his honors.

“Jim, Nancy, thank you for making the Jim Blair Library Commons possible.

“Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for our state, our community, our university, and our law school.

We are deeply grateful.”

 

 After the Chancellor’s remarks, Jim spoke, and he was as always, funny, poignant and thoughtful.  He spoke of the importance of the rule of law, but also shared funny remembrances from his days as a law student. He recognized the lifelong friends he made during law school, some of whom were present, and thanked them for sharing his special day with Nancy and him.

 

I was the closer.  I thanked Jim for that very important first gift, which gave me the confidence to believe I could face the challenges that a dean confronts and find success. It was a good feeling that my last “official” event afforded me an opportunity to thank Jim  and Nancy for the professional and personal support they’ve given me over the years.  After all the speechifying, we adjourned to University House for a reception to honor Jim and Nancy in more practical ways.

Jim and Nancy Blair with Morriss Henry, Dean Leeds & Sid & Rita Davis

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