News & Events
College remembers Robert M. Duncan ’52
November 2, 2012
Contact: Barbara Peck, (614) 292-0283
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is grieving the loss of notable alumnus, distinguished jurist in residence and longtime friend Robert Morton Duncan, who died today at the age of 85.
Duncan broke racial barriers when he became the first black judge elected in Franklin County in 1966 and to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1969. He served on the Ohio Supreme Court until 1971, when he became the first black member of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals. President Richard Nixon appointed Duncan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in 1974, becoming the first black judge appointed to the federal bench in Ohio. It was in this position that Duncan wrote the landmark order ending segregation in the Columbus Public Schools. His fairness, leadership, and accessibility to community groups helped ensure a smooth process of desegregation.
He served on the federal bench until 1985, when he joined Jones Day Reavis & Pogue. Other roles he played in his career included attorney examiner for the Ohio Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation, Columbus city prosecutor, and chief counsel to the attorney general of Ohio.
Duncan was a two-time graduate of The Ohio State University, having earned a B.S. in 1948 and a J.D. in 1952. He maintained a close relationship with the Moritz community, where he was a mentor to students and faculty alike. He was a past president of the College’s Alumni Association and honorary member of the College’s National Council. The College has a professorship, awards, and multiple scholarships in his name as the result of donations made by those he inspired.
“I am so fortunate to count myself as one of the hundreds, and likely thousands, of individuals who have benefited from Bob’s wisdom and guidance,” said Dean Alan C. Michaels, the Edwin M. Cooperman Professor of Law. “He was an extraordinary mentor whose values were a steady beacon for our community. He will be deeply, deeply missed – there will not be another Bob Duncan – but he will live on in our memories and in our actions inspired and guided by his example.”
Duncan’s service to the University was great. In addition to serving as the University as vice president and general counsel, he was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, at one time serving as its secretary; the Executive Committee of the Presidents Club; and chairman of the University Hospital Board.
“There’s some magic about Ohio State. Part of it is emotional,” Duncan said in a video about his ties to the University. “It’s sort of like family and home, and I don’t exactly know how you describe all of the wonders of that family and home.”
He was inducted into the University’s College of Education Hall of Fame and, in 1979, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Moritz.
“Bob Duncan was a truly extraordinary individual who gave so much to the community, the University, and the nation through his lifetime of service. We at the law school have been privileged by Bob’s presence, wisdom and leadership in innumerable ways,” Michaels said.
Services will be held Friday, November 9 at 2 p.m. at the Fawcett Center, 2400 Olentangy River Road, Columbus, Ohio. All are welcome and a reception will follow.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to The Robert M. Duncan Scholarship Fund #641850 at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Donations can be made online here, or can be mailed to The OSU Foundation, 1480 West Lane Ave., Columbus, OH 43211.