Robert E. Shepherd Jr., W&L Alumnus, University of Richmond law professor emeritus and advocate for children’s legal rights, dies of cancer at 71

Lexington, VA • Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prof. Robert E. Shepherd Jr.
Robert E. Shepherd Jr., professor emeritus at the University of Richmond's School of Law and a leader in legal issues affecting children and families, died Dec. 11 after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Shepherd's work was written into law in Virginia and around the country, and his influence extended to hundreds of students and families.
"His teaching, writing and legislative advocacy have had a profound impact on the lives of children and youth throughout Virginia and the nation," said Richmond law school Dean John G. Douglass. "His broadest and deepest legacy will remain the hundreds of students whom he mentored throughout his teaching career and with whom he shared equal measures of his inquisitive spirit, his sense of fair play and his deep human compassion for those most in need."

Shepherd joined Richmond's law school faculty in 1978 and retired in 2001. Winner of the university's distinguished educator award in both 1981 and 1986, he continued teaching at the law school and working on behalf of children after retiring. During the fall of 2008, he was a visiting professor at the Washington and Lee School of Law.

A native of Richmond, Shepherd earned both bachelors ('59) and law ('61) degrees from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.  A paper he wrote for the school's law review became a draft of Virginia's first statute on child abuse and set Shepherd on track for his career. In a 2001 interview with the law school's magazine, he said, "There was a real sense that laws for children were civil rights laws. It was a very exciting time."

A founder and board member of Richmond law school's National Center for Family Law, Shepherd was a sought after expert in courts, before legislative committees and in legal forums around the nation on issues related to children's rights. Over his 40-year career, he headed the American Bar Association's Juvenile Justice Committee and the Virginia Bar Association's Committee on the Needs of Children. He served as reporter on family law and contracts for the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Shepherd served in the Army JAG Corps, then went into private practice in Richmond. He joined the Virginia attorney general's office in 1971, becoming its first assistant attorney general dedicated to youth services. In 1975, he turned to teaching full time at the University of Baltimore before returning to Richmond. 

He found he loved the intersection the law school offered between students in the classroom, the complex issues facing families and the opportunity to interact with professionals including lawyers, pediatricians, social scientists and other teachers.

In 1999, he was the first person inducted into the Virginia Juvenile Court Hall of Fame. In 2005, he received the ABA's Livingston Hall Juvenile Justice Award for his contributions. The National Center for Family Law recently created a scholarship in his honor.

Shepherd is survived by his wife, Nancy, and three children. Family visitation will take place Dec. 14 from 2-4 p.m. at Woody Funeral Home-Parham Chapel, 1771 N. Parham Road.  A memorial service will be held Dec. 15, 1 p.m., at River Road Church, Baptist.

The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to The Robert E. Shepherd, Jr. Endowed Fellowship Fund at the University of Richmond's School of Law.

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