Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Robert "Bob" Lynn's "Very Lucky Life"

Bob LynnBob grew up in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, north of Youngstown, and was married to the love of his youth - Margaret Mary Dunnigan. He served in World War II, though he was assigned to several Air Force schools and never saw combat. His G.I. Bill benefits helped pay for law school.

Like many others, Bob's first steps toward law were steps away from his first chosen profession -- accounting. Bob earned an undergraduate degree in accounting from OSU in 1942. "I could do it, but it didn't take me long to realize I didn't particularly like it," he says. "I had learned a little law in accounting, so that became my alternative."

It was in law school at OSU that Bob developed the two interests that would shape his professional life - property law and teaching. What piqued his interest in property law was its long and interesting history. While in graduate school at Yale Law School, he wrote a dissertation on the Rule Against Perpetuities. The dissertation was later expanded into a book.

"If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have chosen a topic as difficult," he says with a laugh. "It took a lot of close attention to do that." Still, he admits that the intricacies of the rule are what initially drew him to property law.

The reason Bob found himself at Yale, writing about perpetuities, was his desire to teach. While still a law student at OSU and teaching classes in the business school - then the Commerce College - law Professor Frank Strong encouraged him to earn a graduate degree in law and pursue a career as a law professor. "I liked teaching," he says and, happily, he joined the faculty of OSU's law school in 1951. "I enjoyed being in class with the students," Bob says. "It is essential that you enjoy being with the students. If you don't like them, they sense it. I don't know how they do it, but they know."

Bob LynnBob was recognized four times by students with Outstanding Professor awards. In addition to many scholarly articles, he wrote three books, The Modern Rule Against Perpetuities (1966), An Introduction to Estate Planning (1975) and The Pension Crisis (1983).

In addition to his time at OSU, Bob spent one year teaching at Yale, six months at the University of California Los Angeles and one summer at the University of Illinois.

The time at UCLA led to a teaching offer that almost pulled him away from OSU, but Bob says his family could not tear themselves away from Columbus and OSU. He retired from full-time teaching in 1989 and taught part-time until 1995. Like any good teacher, Bob says, he would not have been who he is without having good teachers himself, among them Professor Strong, Professor Charles Callahan - who was his property teacher - and Professors Bob Wills and Vaughn Ball.

Bob says that when he was a student, it was not uncommon for law professors to be impolite to students. At OSU though, many of the teachers treated their students right - a lesson Bob applied throughout his career. That thoughtfulness became a hallmark of his teaching.

Dean Rogers says, "Bob Lynn thought deeply about his counsel to students outside of class as well as his teaching within the classroom. A number of alumni have told me about his pithy advice, always on the mark and valued for years afterward. It's easy for me to believe because, as a colleague, I also benefited from Bob's counsel. In my early years of teaching, Bob appeared in my office door one day to say simply, 'Don't forget to notice how beautiful the sky is.' I knew, as did many of Bob's students, that he wished me well; I would be wise to heed the broader and unspoken message."

Bob's dry wit was ever present in the classroom. Dean Rogers says, "Bob had no discomfort with silence and a desire to select an answer that would produce laughter as well as enlightenment. An alumnus told me that he asked Bob in class what he would teach in the advanced course offered the subsequent semester on the same subject. Bob was quiet for a few moments. Then he responded, 'More and more about less and less.'"

He is quick to praise his former students, who now number more than 6,000, many of whom he calls "credits to themselves and the university." Donald Borror '54, chairman emeritus of Dominion Homes, is one of those students. Borror was a student during Bob's first year of teaching at the law school.

"He is a straight shooter," says Borror, who was also Bob's neighbor for 30 years. "He was genuinely respected and revered by students and faculty. I'm proud to call him my teacher and prouder to call him my friend. When Bob went to Yale, he came to me and scratched out plans for a house on the back of an envelope. We didn't have a written contract and I had him for contracts class. We did it all on a handshake." Borror has built two houses for Bob since taking Bob's contracts class.

Another student was Michael E. Moritz '61 for whom the college is named. Bob's able teaching contributed to Moritz' successful career as a corporate lawyer. To honor Bob, Moritz created the Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law at the College in 2001.

Professor Martha Chamallas currently holds the Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law. "Bob Lynn was one of the most highly respected faculty members on the Ohio State faculty because he was a wonderful teacher, a mentor to countless students and junior faculty, and a very kind, gentle person," Chamallas says. "When I met him, I could immediately see that the legend fit the man. He had an enormously positive influence on the culture of the law school and it is meaningful to remember his contribution through a Chair in his honor."

Bob says he always made the effort to learn the name and face of every student he ever taught. At 83, he readily admits the names do not come as fast, but he still loves seeing past charges. "I enjoy talking to them and learning about what they've been doing," he says. "I'm always sure to ask them one question: If you had to do it all over again, would you still go to law school?" For Lynn himself, the simple answer is yes - yes to law school and a resounding yes to his life.

"I've been lucky all my life," Lynn said. "Most of my adult life, I was paid to do something I enjoyed doing. I was very fortunate. I've had a very lucky, very good life."